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May 14, 2010

The Preakness - Horse Racing's Middle Child

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Most casual horse racing fans hold the Kentucky Derby in high regard. They also get revved up for the Belmont Stakes if a horse is in line for a possible Triple Crown. On the other hand, the Preakness Stakes usually gets lost in the shuffle.

Passionate fans of the sport, especially chalk players, love the Preakness as it usually is the most formful of the three races. In fact, the favorite has won seven of the last nine runnings, including Rachel Alexandra's historic victory over the boys last May.

Nevertheless, the race isn't run just for the betting choice's benefit. Longshots have fared very well this decade when it comes to rounding out the exacta.

Two years ago, 39-1 Macho Again finished second behind Big Brown, and in 2005, Scrappy T, the co-seventh choice, filled out a $152.60 exacta in back of the favored Afleet Alex.

When Funny Cide rolled to a 9 3/4-length score in 2003, Midway Road, the next- to-last longshot, held off third choice Scrimshaw by three-quarters of a length to complete a $120.60 exacta, and one year earlier, the locally-trained three-year-old Magic Weisner rallied for second behind War Emblem. The 45-1 shot combined with the winning favorite for a $327.00 payout.

If you like a longshot in this year's field, don't be fearful of betting him underneath the top two favorites.

Speaking of the Run for the Roses, after three straight years (2002-2004) of Derby winners capturing the second leg of the Triple Crown, only one has crossed the wire first at Pimlico since and that was the heavy 1-5 favorite, Big Brown.

Everyone remembers the tragedy that befell Barbaro in the 2006 running, and the following year, Street Sense failed to hold off the late charge by Curlin.

Not many folks expected Mine That Bird or Giacomo, the two 50-1 Derby winners, to come right back two weeks later and be draped with the Black-Eyed Susans, especially at 6-1 odds, but they both hit the board with the former running a game second to Rachel Alexandra and the latter finishing third behind Afleet Alex and Scrappy T.

Horses coming out of the Derby have won the Preakness 23 of the last 26 years, so on the surface, the odds look pretty sweet that Saturday's winner will be one of the five colts that raced at Churchill Downs on May 1. However, non- Derby horses have taken two of the last four as Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra crashed the party in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

My advice is to bet the horse with the best chance of winning, regardless of where he made his last start.


Jackson Bend has finished first or second in nine of 10 career starts. However, his lone poor effort came on the biggest stage in the Kentucky Derby. The Nick Zito-trained colt had a decent trip in the Run for the Roses, but faltered late finishing 19-lengths behind Super Saver.

The son of Hear No Evil was bred to be a miler and it showed two weeks ago when he ran his final quarter-mile in 30 seconds flat. Harness horses come home faster than that!

Look for Jackson Bend to sit much closer to the pace on Saturday, but it's extremely doubtful he'll keep up with the other front runners through the stretch.

Due to his nose loss to Ice Box in the Florida Derby, Pleasant Prince lacked the graded earnings necessary to enter the Kentucky Derby. Nonetheless, his owner, Kenneth Ramsey, tried every which way possible to get the colt into the Churchill Downs starting gate, racing him twice in the month of April. Unfortunately, the plan backfired since Pleasant Prince lost by over nine lengths in both starts.

Most owners and trainers that skip the Derby and aim towards the Preakness do so to have a fresh horse on the third Saturday in May. However, Pleasant Prince does not fall into that category as this will be his third start in the last five weeks.

D. Wayne Lukas has won the Preakness five times, but the last came over a decade ago. He'll have a pair of colts in the 2010 running, one year after his Flying Private ran fourth at 25-1.

Northern Giant comes into the race off a last place finish in the Arkansas Derby. His two best races came in his two prior starts - the Risen Star (third) and Lane's End (second), but the winners of those two races - Discreetly Mine and Dean's Kitten - finished 13th and 14th in the Kentucky Derby.

Northern Giant has no business being in the starting gate.

Dublin, his other Preakness starter, ran very well underneath the Twin Spires finishing seventh, beaten 7 1/2-lengths. Breaking from post 17, the son of Afleet Alex was well back early on before making a powerful run around the far turn closing to within two lengths of the lead.

However, he ran like a very tired horse through the stretch, bearing in and out before faltering late. In addition, his bold middle move was obviously helped by the fast pace set by both Conveyance and Sidney's Candy.

Dublin will put forth another decent effort but the 1 3/16-mile distance will prove too much for him to handle.

First Dude is another horse that will have trouble getting the 9.5-furlongs. In his two graded stakes attempts at 1 1/8-miles, he dropped back a combined 7 1/2 lengths in the final two furlongs.

The son of Stephen Got Even did have to steady at the top of the stretch in the Florida Derby, but he still finished more than six lengths behind Ice Box and Pleasant Prince. In the Blue Grass, he ran close to the pace early on, only to finish third, beaten over five lengths by Stately Victor.

The only chance First Dude has of finishing in the money is if he changes his running style from stalker to closer, but based on his last workout it's doubtful there'll be any transformation. The bay colt fired off a 1:00 3/5 bullet work at Churchill Downs, hitting the three-furlong marker in a brisk 35 1/5.

Like his former boss D. Wayne Lukas, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher will have two colts on the track this Saturday.

Dogwood Stable's Aikenite joins Super Saver in Pletcher's quest to win his first ever Preakness Stakes, a race he's 0-4, including a last place finish in 2009 with Take the Points.

Aikenite, who has not won since breaking his maiden last August, has two in- the-money finishes this year along with a pair of clunkers. The colt does his best running from off-the-pace as witnessed by his exceptional efforts in last year's Hopeful Stakes and Breeders' Futurity, along with a second-place finish in the recently run Derby Trial. However, like many colts in the field, the final furlong will be his undoing.

Stay tuned later in the week for more analysis and predictions.

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