BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 21: Jockey Jesus Castanon guides Shackleford #5 (C) to victory over Animal Kingdom and jockey John Velazquez #11 to win the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 21, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The thoughts below will follow no particular pattern, sort of like the Preakness at Old Hilltop yesterday.
- You spend all these days looking at the form and the past performances and you get to a point that you envision a certain pace scenario. Yesterday, that scenario looked like a speed duel between Flashpoint, Shackleford, and possible Astrology or Dance City. The gates opened and the leaders blistered the opening quarter in 22.69 and you think, "hey, they are doing what I thought they'd do!". Then the rest of the race happens.
The key to the Preakness, and the resulting pace scenario, was (in my opinion) Flashpoint. After zipping through an opening quarter in 22.69, he slows it down to 24.18 in the second quarter. If you watched both Flashpoint and Shackleford as they left the gate and went by the finish line for the first time, you could see that Shack was going to go with Flashpoint; he rushed up to join him going into the first turn. If Flashpoint keeps going hard after that first quarter, Shackleford probably follows and the pace is probably much quicker.
Flashpoint ran six furlongs in 1:12.01 and then backed up badly. The fact that he backed up didn't surprise most players - he's a sprint pedigree with a sprint profile - but the fact that he didn't run the first six in under 1:11 is surprising. The only way he could have won that race is to make the rest come and get him whiling attempting to grind the rest of the field into the ground. He was either unwilling or unable to do just that, which opened the door for Shackleford.
- Jesus Castanon and Shackeford did what they needed to do in the middle stages of the Preakness, helped out a bit by Flashpoint, and come home gamely just as they had in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. A nice ride by Castanon, who was able to settle his mount for the second straight time in one of the biggest races of the year.
I didn't have Shackleford in any of my Preakness wagers but that didn't make it hard to be extremely happy for trainer Dale Romans winning his first Triple Crown race. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, and seemingly one of the most down-to-earth trainers there is in the sport, Romans deserves every accolade this morning for the training job he's done with the Preakness winner. Hopefully this is the first of many more winners in the Triple Crown series, including (someday) a win in his hometown Kentucky Derby.
- Looking at the internal splits, Animal Kingdom and Dialed In ran the slowest opening quarters in the field (25,82 and 26.24, respectively). They then ran the fastest 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter and final 3.5 furlongs. With that in mind, the inability of either horse to stay closer to the lead in the opening quarter really hamstrung them at the end. Before the race, I thought Dialed In would have an excellent chance to win if he could stay 10 to 12 lengths back early, not the 15+ he was in the Derby. After a quarter of a mile yesterday, Dialed In was 20+ lengths behind (according to the charts). Game over at that point.
If Nick Zito wants Dialed In to win some races in the future he's going to need to either a) enter a rabbit to ensure a quicker pace, or b) train him to get into the race a bit sooner after leaving the gate because Dialed In is trying to win by running a Zenyatta-style without Zenyatta's talent.
- I'm still waiting for Midnight Interlude to cross the finish line.
- Anybody wondering how Nehro would have done yesterday? Me too.
Mucho Macho Man ran 47.74 for the first half-mile and then finished up the final 3 1/2 furlongs in 45.00. A consistent colt all spring, Mucho seemed to finally hit the wall in the Preakness.
- Animal Kingdom ran the fastest final 3 1/2 furlongs of any colt in the field - 43.61.
- The Beyer figure for the Preakness was 104, with Animal Kingdom duplicating his 103 from the Derby. Take that for what it's worth.
- It appears all fourteen horses came out of the Preakness in good order and the entire card at Pimlico went off without any major injuries (Paddy O'Prado has a minor foot bruise). That's always the best news you can hear.
- I have no inclination as to what to expect at the Belmont except to say that if the pace was this slow in the Derby and the Preakness, what in the world is going to happen in the Belmont. In recent years the pace has been absolutely non-existent in that race and now we've got a field of horses heading to New York that seemingly don't want anything to do with quick fractions. Here is an early prediction: I think we will see a horse very close to the lead winning the Belmont this year.
- I think it's time for Life At Ten to begin her life-after-racing career. If you watched her race yesterday, you saw a once top-class mare run about as disinterested a race as a horse can. What more is left to do at this point?
- I'm going to have a bit longer post on this in a day or so, but the best handicapping information to come out of the day at Pimlico yesterday may have been in regards to the turf course. The most descriptive word I read to describe the conditions yesterday was "demanding", as Steven Crist of the Daily Racing Form called it. You could also call it brutally slow.
The turf course was rated "GOOD" but I almost feel like they called it that due to the fact that Friday the course was Yielding and it was dry overnight and, therefore, it must be Good. In reality, the turf course played about as slow as a turf course can play. The races on the lawn yesterday had speed horses in them; maybe not a ton of speed, but they weren't without pace. The course, however, was not going to allow a horse to run quick fractions on the front-end.
Check out the splits from yesterday's turf races at two-turns:
It just doesn't get much slower than that for grass races in the U.S., with none of the five turf routes producing a mile time of under 1:40 (or a 6f split of under 1:14). Furthermore, one of the best grass horses in the country, Paddy O'Prado, ran his final 1/8th of a mile in 12.99 to win the Grade 2 Dixie (which most of the nation didn't see because NBC is awful). That would normally be considered a very slow final split, especially for a horse with the class of Paddy O'Prado, but on Saturday that was an outstanding final split.
It will be interesting to see how much a race over yesterday's turf course will take out of some horses. I would think a few might have found it to be a very taxing course, requiring a bit more time to recuperate. Additionally, speed horses that faltered badly on the grass yesterday, especially if they had some class to them, should do much better when returning to a firmer, less strenuous going.
If I were to grade NBC's Preakness broadcast it would be a D...barely. Not only did they not show the Grade 2 Dixie, (a race that took all of 1 minutes and 53 seconds to run) but the entire show was like listening to a broken record. (In case you haven't heard, John Velasquez replaced Robby Albarado on Animal Kingdom two weeks ago!)
The talent at NBC is fine, I got no problems with Hammond, Steven,s Moss, Battaglia, Neumeier, or anyone else that was on-air. The problem is with the producers and the fact that they aren't creative enough to find room for an actual horse race during a two-hour horse racing program.
I wrote this yesterday (and probably last year): if you want people to be interested in racing, you need to SHOW RACING. Additionally, if you're not going to show the graded stakes race immediately preceding the Preakness (the one with arguably the best turf horse in America, Paddy O'Prado), could you at least allow HRTV to show it, or show it on Versus? The Versus coverage has been a great addition but NBC's Preakness coverage on Saturday was borderline unwatchable.