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May 10, 2012

Kentucky Derby winners in the Preakness

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Seven of the last 20 Kentucky Derby winners have come right back to win the Preakness, which is the same number of Derby winners that won the Triple Crown's middle jewel between 1972 and 1991.

However, there is one main difference in the two eras and that is field size. When Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed ran at Pimlico, they had to contend with only five, eight and six other horses, respectively. Conversely, War Emblem, Smarty Jones and Big Brown squared off against 12, nine and 11 competitors, respectively.

The average Preakness field has increased from eight horses between 1972 and 1981 to 12 over the last 10 years. Putting it in other terms, 14 of the 20 runnings between 1972 and 1991 had fields of nine or less. Only once since 1992 has there been a race with fewer than nine horses.

It's not as if Secretariat or Seattle Slew would have had a tougher time winning the Preakness with more competition. It's just that it's more difficult to reach the winner's circle in the current era when superstar 3- year-olds are few and far between.

Despite the parity in the breed, especially at longer distances, Preakness favorites have been winning at an alarming rate. Since 2002, the betting choice has crossed the wire first six times, while two other favorites - Street Sense and Animal Kingdom - finished second. Six of those eight horses had won the Kentucky Derby.

Over the last 15 years, Derby winners have been dominant in the Preakness with seven victories for a 47-percent winning percentage. Not only that, four others finished second. Among them, Mine That Bird (50-1 in the Derby) and Animal Kingdom (20-1 at Churchill Downs). Even Giacomo ran third at Pimlico after winning the Derby at 50-1.

That doesn't necessarily mean double-digit Kentucky Derby winners can't win the Preakness. War Emblem, who paid $43.00 on the first Saturday in May, came right back as the 5-2 favorite at Old Hilltop. A year later, Funny Cide (12-1) took home the Woodlawn Vase as the 9-5 favorite after upsetting Empire Maker at Churchill Downs.

Forty of the top four Preakness finishers over the last 15 years (60 horses total) ran in the Kentucky Derby. So those folks waiting to bet the superfecta can probably count on at least three Derby horses finishing in the first four slots.

Breaking it down even further, the Preakness has been won by a horse coming out of the Derby 12 times over the last 15 years. Additionally, nine horses each have occupied the place and show spots, while 10 have finished fourth.

Despite those numbers, the Preakness has witnessed a Kentucky Derby exacta just once (last year) since 2007 and only two times since 2001.

It's often been said that new shooters (non-Kentucky Derby runners) have a tough time winning the Preakness. That statement has a lot of truth to it since only three have finished first since 1983. Nevertheless, a new shooter has run second in nine of the last 20 years, with average odds of 21-1. However, this year's bunch leaves a lot to be desired.

Post Derby Thoughts

First, I would like to thank my colleague Don Agriss for acknowledging my pick of I'll Have Another. As my readers know, I have been on the I'll Have Another bandwagon even before the chestnut colt won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes back in early February, and the Derby winner has been in the No. 1 spot on "The Jeff Frank Dirty Dozen" since a few days prior to his Santa Anita Derby victory.

Given that, it was certainly a very satisfying Kentucky Derby. It was also one of the more exciting stretch runs in recent memory, and the second-smallest margin of victory since Fusaichi Pegasus defeated Aptitude by the same 1 1/2 lengths back in 2000.

Once again, even in victory, I'll Have Another has not received the amount of respect he so richly deserves. Almost all the talk the last few days has been about Bodemeister and what a great race he ran in defeat. There is no denying how special a performance it was, but the last time I checked, the Kentucky Derby is 1 1/4 miles, not 1 1/8 miles.

Furthermore, speed was dominant all day at Churchill Downs. Four of the other six dirt races (after the track condition changed to fast) were won by horses on the lead after the first half-mile, and the other two winners were a length or less behind. Not a single horse finished second, let alone won, that was more than 4 1/2 lengths off the pace, except for I'll Have Another, who was eight lengths behind Bodemeister after the first half-mile.

In fact, two races later, Mr. Ticket, a 20-1 maiden who had lost his first five starts by over 33 lengths, ran his first half-mile in 44 3/5 seconds, then three-quarters in 1:10 1/5 before he finished the mile in 1:35 4/5. Bodemeister raced through his fractions in 45 1/5, 1:09 4/5, and 1:35, and then crawled home with a final quarter-mile in about 27 seconds.

Consider these two other facts and you'll see how easy it was for speed to hang on:

First, only three of the other 19 horses ran a faster final quarter-mile than I'll Have Another's 25.99. Second, just five horses gained any ground on Bodemeister inside the final two furlongs and he came home in 26.94 seconds.

One could argue that another Bob Baffert colt from the past ran a better Derby than Bodemeister.

Back in 2001, Congaree had the lead in the 127th Kentucky Derby after a mile in 1:35 after going 45 2/5 and 1:09 4/5 - all numbers similar to Bodemeister's fractions.

Does anyone remember how many horses came home quicker than Congaree? Only

two. One was Monarchos, who ran the third-fastest Kentucky Derby ever, and the other was Invisible Ink, who finished second a nose in front of Congaree. The track was just as fast that day as it was last week and Congaree came home in 25 4/5 seconds.

Bodemeister's connections will wait a few more days to see if the 3-year-old is ready to run in the Preakness. A lot will depend on how much they feel the colt can handle the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont Stakes. If they think it will be too much, look for him to be entered in the Preakness. If they think the 12 furlongs is within his scope, they might bypass next Saturday's event since it would be his third race in five weeks.

One horse that is a definite for the Preakness is Went the Day Well. The Graham Motion-trained colt ran against the grain of the track at Churchill Downs, finishing a fast-closing fourth, missing second by only a length. The son of Proud Citizen also was bumped at the start and jockey John Velazquez had to check the colt on two separate occasions before the field rounded the first turn. He could be the one to use in the exacta with I'll Have Another, instead of Bodemeister.

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