Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bunny's Preakness Picks

With the post draw for Preakness Stakes 136 in the books, and the race itself just days away, I am anxiously anticipating the race that will hopefully result with Animal Kingdom going onto the Belmont in search of the first Triple Crown victory in over thirty years.  The positive impact on horseracing would be significant, continuing the high the country felt following Zenyatta last year.  I know it’s important to stay focused on the job in front of you, but it is fun to imagine Animal Kingdom becoming ‘the big horse’.
Obviously, Animal Kingdom is worthy of the favoritism he is receiving at odds of 2-1.  He gave nothing short of an excellent performance in the Derby, which he won by nearly three lengths in a quick time of 2:02.04.  Graham Motion’s decision to ship him to Pimlico on the morning of the Preakness Stakes is a smart move.  Being just a stone’s throw away from the Maryland racetrack, this chestnut colt will likely be more rested than the opposing horses that competed in the Derby, not having the luxury of relaxing at the more tranquil atmosphere of a training center.  I also agree with the decision to keep Kentucky Derby jockey, John Velazquez, in the saddle.
With many graded stakes races, I sometimes find that I am conflicted between my professional favorite (best stats), and my emotional favorite (trainers, owners, stories, etc…).  In this instance, Animal Kingdom sits at the top of both hills for me.  I look forward to watching him shoot for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Florida Derby winner, Dialed In, cannot be denied as a strong challenger to Animal Kingdom.  Despite his disappointing eighth place finish in the Kentucky Derby, he gave a remarkable effort in the final half of the race.  Dialed In passed twelve horses before hitting the wire, having a last half mile time that is the fastest since Secretariat, in 1973.  Highly respected trainer, Nick Zito, no doubt has been making adjustments and fine tuning Dialed In since his Derby performance.  I am expecting the colt to show up on Preakness Day ready to rumble.
Lest we forget the horses who fell short in the Derby, only to go on to sweep the last two legs of the Triple Crown:  Hansel (1991), Tabasco Cat (1994), Point Given (2001), and Afleet Alex (2005).  Then there is Summer Bird (2009), who won the Belmont and Travers Stakes after finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby.   Dialed In may experience the same destiny.
Shackelford, the fourth place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, is a horse that should not go overlooked.  Throughout the year, he has run consistently, finishing a close second to Dialed In in the Florida Derby.  While his pacemaking running style keeps him safe from trouble, it also slowly eats away at the energy needed to hold off the field in the final furlongs of the races he runs. If this handsome colt by Forestry can be held back in the early fractions of the race, he will be one of the strongest horses in the Preakness.
Standing ready to run in the Kentucky Derby, it was unfortunate that Sway Away was not allowed to race in Uncle Mo’s place when the leading contender was scratched.  This colt, named for his notorious conformation fault, is coming off an out of the money finish in the Arkansas Derby, his highest placing of the year was in the form of an impressive second to The Factor in the San Vicente Stakes. 
In the Arkansas Derby, he was very rank around the first turn, going wide, and settled fifth on the backstretch.  Jockey Patrick Venezuela asked Sway Away to run just before he had run ¾ of a mile, which I believe was too early.  Into the stretch, he had the lead, but lost plenty of ground by severely swerving to the inside and outside.  Had he run straight, he may have won.
It would be interesting to see Sway Away run without his blinkers and shadowroll.  Knowing that the shadowroll is used on horses who carry their head low, I do not understand the strategy behind using this equipment on such a high headed horse. Maybe new jockey Garret Gomez can keep the colt running straight and hopefully we will see a better finish from Sway Away, who is my longshot selection, going off at odds of 15-1.
Each stakes race seems to have its own personality; The Kentucky Derby gives me the “hope springs eternal” feeling, maybe this will be THE year.  
Then, year after year, we all head to the Preakness Stakes, with its split personality. Our Derby winner carries the hopes and dreams of racing fans everywhere that maybe this will be THE year.  That is, of course, until we as a nation, sigh collectively as the Derby winner is not the first nose to the wire. 
Then there is the Belmont Stakes; The Christmas Day of horseracing, that is if the Derby and Preakness is won by the same horse.  What a feeling it must be to watch the Belmont Stakes, and witness that same nose crossing that third wire to make history.  I would like to know what that feels like in my lifetime.     
So the answer is YES, I would love to see Animal Kingdom win the Preakness.    

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