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2015 Preakness: Firing Line out to challenge American Pharoah

The runner-up at the Kentucky Derby will attempt to make up for its loss during Saturday's race at Pimlico.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Preakness is my favorite Triple Crown Race. No race can match the pomp and circumstance of the Kentucky Derby, and only one horse can be crowned a Triple Crown winner by winning the Belmont Stakes.

The Preakness is the gate to immortality serving as a pass through for the greatest racehorses of each generation, like an airport where you switch planes, and with every hope that the next flight will get you to your destination on time and with all luggage delivered.

There is a $1.5 million purse, but not one set of owners involved in the Triple Crown are driven by just purse money alone. The connections (owner, trainer, jockey) of each Preakness runner saddles up with their pride, the opportunity to make history and the vision of a having their horse become the next multi-millionaire in the breeding shed.

The success of Preakness winner's in the breeding shed since 2005:




2015 Breeding Fee


California Chrome

Still Racing



Calumet Farm (KY)



I'll Have Another

Big Red Farm (JPN)




Darby Dan (KY)



Lookin At Lucky

Ashford Stud (KY)



Rachel Alexandra

Filly, now a Broodmare at Stonestreet Farms (KY)


Big Brown

Dutchess Views Farm (KY)




Lane's End (KY)




Darley (KY)



Afleet Alex

Gainesway (KY)


If the Kentucky Derby is "blue bloods," the Preakness is "blue collar." One of the few horse racing infields still wide open to general admission fans, the Preakness Stakes aims to continue tradition beyond the entry box.

This author has been to most every grade I stakes race in North America and the Preakness Stakes and Saratoga still rank as the best. And while "fan friendly" makes up 20% of this ranking, wagering opportunities and value are the driving force.

With this, I present to you the 140th Preakness Stakes Race Analysis.

The Stakes is run at its unique distance of 1 3/16 miles (9.5 furlongs). Just a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby, favorites in the Preakness have typically fared well as seven of the last 10 Derby winners have finished first or second in the race, while the longest priced winner of the race was only 23-1 (Master Derby in 1975).

Here are the Pace Figures and Past Performances for the Preakness Stakes

American Pharoah (4/5)

Here's what we had to say about American Pharoah prior to the Kentucky Derby:

As projected, Pharoah won the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths, in what looked like a public workout. And, speaking of workouts (think practice), his last workout was by all accounts in the press, phenomenal, so much so that he has been compared to the best horses in the past 35 years. The 18 post should suit his running style perfectly as it gives jockey, Victor Espinoza, a clear view of his competitors inside.

He could run through his last final figure as great horses can follow lifetime best after a lifetime best. The pre-race hype and morning-line favorite of odds of 5/2 make for a difficult decision on how to play the race unless you could bet him to win the Triple Crown.

While the final time of the Kentucky Derby was considered slow, American Pharoah's Derby Pace Figures were excellent. His ability to run through his lifetime Top Pace Figure and win the most high profile race in the world from an outside post is a sign of greatness, but his test continues in the Preakness Stakes.

The biggest obstacle for American Pharoah is his post position, the dreaded "one-hole." The reason the inside post is a disadvantage is the horse becomes the only runner in the race that can't choose to head left out of the starting gate; he has to exert more effort to get out of the starting gate quicker than his competitors. Therefore, this Preakness is as much about the human athletes as it is the equine stars.

I'm not convinced American Pharoah has enough speed to get the lead. He was on the lead early in two previous races but in both cases he got the lead easily in rather slow quarter mile times. Using Predicteform's Play Value view and sorting by fastest 4 furlong figure, three other runners (Firing Line, Dortmund and Mr. Z) show faster 4 furlong averages.

So, if you believe as I do that AP would have to over-exert to get the lead, the question becomes, is he good enough to win the Preakness Stakes from a stalking position.

The Play: Fringe Contender - the overwhelming favorite with the best chance to win the race, though from a pure betting position there is limited value.

Dortmund (7/2)

Of the five Derby runners starting in the Preakness, Dortmund's final Pace Figure showed the most improvement. His 80.1 final figure was 3.9 points higher than his previous race and almost two points higher than his lifetime top. This marked improvement with a three-year-old can be a positive step towards on-going progression or a clear mark of a lifetime top, which would indicate regression is forthcoming.

He will benefit from being outside American Pharoah in the second post position. Tactically it's easier to break to the lead versus the inside post. Dortmund has gone to the lead in his last three races and has the second fastest 4 furlong average, just a tic behind Firing Line. Martin Garcia is as crafty as they come, though what has been frustrating from a tactical race perspective is he is less likely to race ride as Dortmund is a stable mate to American Pharoah and also is trained by Bob Baffert. A somewhat common term used in thoroughbred racing, when you think of race riding, think of a poker player that plays the man and not the cards.

The Play: Fringe Contender - the most likely to regress of the top three from the Preakness, he will have value at 4-1 or better.

Mr. Z (20/1)

Mr. Z's trainer D. Wayne Lukas, is considered the "godfather" of trainers, and can cite understudies such as Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin and Mike Maker. "Coach" has won more Triple Crown races (14) than any other trainer including six Preakness Stakes.

Mr. Z was owned by Zayat Stables for the Derby, the same owner of American Pharoah. Lukas, likely frustrated with the fact that the dual ownership made Mr. Z a second class citizen, vanned Mr. Z to Pimlico on his own accord and engineered the sale of Mr. Z to Calumet Farm on Wednesday of this week. Calumet Farms is no stranger to the Preakness, winning the race in 2013 with long shot Oxbow.

Do I think that can happen again? Very unlikely. Mr. Z's PFigures are too slow and he has already raced 13 times in his short career with just one win. What I do think is Mr. Z and Mr. Lukas can make American Pharoah's life more difficult.

The Play: Too Slow - while it would be a story for the ages, Mr. Z is too slow to hit the board, but many in the crowd will still be rooting for Mr. Z and the Coach.

Danzig Moon (15/1)

He ran a 76 final figure in the Blue Grass but his prior effort was a 70 which means he moved forward six points, considered a big move along with a lifetime top. While an inside draw is usually not the best place to be, his running style just might appreciate the ability to duck right to the rail.

A fifth place finish in the Derby along with a 78.7 final figure for Danzig Moon, all things considered, is a positive effort. His off the pace running style fits jockey Julien Leparoux like a glove, the reason why these two are paired up together.

The Play: Longshot - a step below the top three but the only serious double digit runner with a chance to hit the board.

Tale of Verve (30/1)

A maiden-only winner, Tale of the Verve tries the impossible jump to Grade I competition. He's won $54,000 lifetime and took five tries to get his first win. His average final Pace Figure is 10 points below the top three.

The Play: Too Slow - a boy against giants, all we can ask what is the owner thinking.

Bodhisattva (20/1)

Named after a Steely Dan Song, Bo-dee-set-va has as much chance to win the Preakness as does its surname in being the opening song of Super Bowl 50.

The single Cal-bred in the field, this homebred has a couple wins against average competition. He is an improving sort who most recently ran a lifetime top of 71 while also owning the lowest average Final Pace Figure lifetime of just 67.

The Play: Another that is just way Too Slow.

Diving Rod (12/1)

The best of the "new shooters," Diving Rod has raced competitively in Grade III competition. By Tapit, his sire stands for $300,000 and is the leading sire in North America, while his dam (mom), is a four-time Grade I winner named Stephanie's Kitten who earned $2.7 million (mostly on grass). She has no other runners on the track to compare, but from a breeding perspective, there is no one better.

Diving Rod ran a distant third to Carpe Diem in the Tampa Bay Derby (who finished tenth in the Derby with a 76.8 final figure), which doesn't give much hope that he can compete against the same runners who beat Carpe Diem easily. His most recent Pace Figure was a 77.7 but a clear five point jump to his lifetime top. He does pick up the services of Javier Castellano, the leading rider in the country but it's somewhat negative by an outside draw next to one of the faster gate leavers in the field.

The Play: Regressor - He is in too tough here but has an optimistic future, especially when he tries the sod.

Firing Line (4/1)

Here's what we had to say about Firing Line prior to the Derby.

A late developing colt, Firing Line has lost to Dortmund by just a head in two races. Combine that with jockey Gary Stevens and an excellent draw of the ten post (an 11.5% win percentage rate since 1930), and no wonder he's been made the co-fourth choice in this field.

Looking at his Pace Figures, his last race is cause for pause. He ran an 81.3/81.2 in the Sunland Derby winning by 14 lengths with the fastest 4f and final figure of all the starters.

Surprisingly, Firing Line ran right back to an 81 final figure in the Derby, running an impressive second to American Pharoah. Initially a "cause for concern," those back to back 81's look strikingly like a foundation. If in fact his foundation (two or more races around the same final figure) is 81, he is a formidable opponent for American Pharoah.

The outside post position (No. 8) gives him a tactical advantage if he breaks, which is expected. Jockey Gary Stevens rode Oxbow on the lead to win the 2013 Preakness Stakes at odds of over 10/1. This setup could be eerily similar with the exception of the emerging superstar on the rail.

The Play: Top Contender - Speed, an 81 final figure foundation and the 4/1 morning-line third choice, provide considerable value on top.

Dan Zucker is a co-founder of (and, a horse racing data analytics company that focuses on how horses are progressing or regressing coming into a race. Zucker is a thoroughbred owner and partner and has campaigned stakes runners - Quiet Meadow, Street Life and Pianist and his current pride and joy, Catch My Drift.

Read more about how works here.