Trainer Todd Pletcher has decided to pass on the Preakness Stakes, declining to enter either of his two Kentucky Derby finishers, or potential contenders who skipped the Derby, and could, presumably, be Preakness ready, such as Stanford. Materiality, sixth at Churchill Downs, will point instead to the Belmont Stakes. “If you come back in two weeks and you turn out to be wrong,” said Pletcher, “not only could you not run well in the Preakness, it could compromise your chances in the Belmont as well.”
That puts the likely Preakness field at seven*, a short number that inspired Brian Zipse to speculate that the trainer is sending a message, a message that it’s time to alter the Triple Crown schedule:
It should be crystal clear to us all that America’s top trainer is making a strong statement that the Triple Crown races are too close to each other on the calendar. Because of this, the Middle Jewel, the Preakness, is the odd race out for the powerful Todd Pletcher stable …
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen such an obvious example of why the timing between races of the Triple Crown should be expanded. Todd Pletcher, America’s most influential trainer, is not running any of his horses in the Preakness — Not Materiality — Not Carpe Diem — Not Competitive Edge — simply because it is too close to the Derby.
It isn’t just the Preakness that gets short changed … the Kentucky Oaks got Alciabides winner Lovely Maria, Louisiana Oaks champion I’m a Chatterbox, Gulfstream Oaks victor Birdatthewire and Santa Anita Oaks winner Stellar Wind. The Black Eyed Susan is getting none of them.
(My opinion re: a schedule change hasn’t much changed since last year.)
The quick return doesn’t scare trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who had Mr. Z, 13th in the Derby, vanned to Pimlico. “He’ll run in the Preakness or he won’t run at all,” Lukas told Alicia Wincze Hughes. There’s just one problem — owner Ahmed Zayat, also the owner of Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah, doesn’t want him entered. “Can’t stop that man,” he tweeted. “Wow. Mr. Z not running.” Zayat was further “completely unambiguous” when asked if the colt would start on Saturday, reports Marty McGee, saying Mr. Z “does not belong in the race on his merits.” But someone’s signals are crossed: “Oh, he’s running,” said Lukas. The Preakness draw is today, beginning at 5:00 PM ET.
*6:00 PM Update: The Preakness drew eight. Here’s the field with morning line: 1. American Pharoah (4-5); 2. Dortmund (7-2); 3. Mr Z (20-1); 4. Danzig Moon (15-1); 5. Tale Of Verve (30-1); 6. Bodhisattva (20-1); 7. Divining Rod (12-1); 8. Firing Line (4-1). (Get the Hello Race Fans cheat sheet.)
5/14/15 Addendum: Pletcher, asked about altering the Triple Crown schedule:
“I’m torn on what’s the right thing to do,” Pletcher said last month at Churchill Downs. “I think you lose the historical significance if you [change the schedule]. I think you can argue as the breed has evolved and trainers have evolved, [there should be] more time for the horses between races.
“There’s a far better chance we’ll have a Triple Crown winner if we do that, but will it have an asterisk next to it? I don’t know.”
A gigantic banner hanging above the racetrack’s main entrance declares the Preakness to be “the people’s race” and “the people’s party.” But those people, for the most part, aren’t from the largely black community around the track, where just gaining admission to the clubhouse and the grandstand will cost you $25 (much more if you want a seat), and where an infield ticket will set you back $70.
“For 50 years, I’ve sat on this porch and have seen people come and go on Preakness day, and most of them are white and rich and look all fancy in their dresses, neckties and shorty-shorts,” said Ruth Spencer, 87, who lives near the corner of Hayward and Winner Avenues, across the street from the track. “But I do love watching the people come by. I feel proud that they’ve come here to my backyard.”
Move the Preakness to Laurel, says Andrew Beyer.
Q: You hit American Pharoah with the whip 32 times during the race. There are those who have said that was a bit excessive. Your take?
A: No. I was doing it to encourage him, nothing else. I wanted to encourage him, keep him focused and keep him straight.
Also: Owner Ahmed Zayat is high on Pharoah in advance of the second leg of the Triple Crown. “I think he breathes different air than everyone else … he won the Derby, and I think he’ll be better in the Preakness.”
Preakness Stakes winners and their post-time Preakness odds, 1984-2014. Kentucky Derby winners who also won the Preakness are in bold:
KYD = Kentucky Derby finish / PRK = Preakness finish / * = Favorite
I don’t anticipate this year’s Derby winner going to post as anything other than the Preakness favorite, although by how much he’ll be favored is a question.
12:30 PM Addendum: Not to keep on about jockey Victor Espinoza whipping American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby, but it’ll be a factor for a sizable number of handicappers who will consider Espinoza’s hard use a measure of Pharaoh’s Derby performance, influencing the colt’s Preakness odds.
UK racing analyst James Willoughby adds an international perspective to the recent discussion, writing in the Thoroughbred Daily News:
The number of strokes was arguably not the most egregious aspect; rather, it was the overwhelming impression that Espinoza was working on the horse — not with him …
It is no longer going to wash to say this is the way it has always been done or we know what is best. Just like every other pursuit in the world, racing must have a robust, well-considered defense for its practices which can remain true to racing tradition without being hidebound by it.
Indeed, whatever the local values held about the sport, surely nobody would stand up for hitting a horse without giving it time to respond.
As a starting point, that’s a good one.
1. The use of the whip in Racing – providing strict controls are effectively enforced – remains appropriate and necessary for the safety of both jockeys and horses …
2. The current whip guidelines and penalties for those jockeys who breach the Rules on whip use are not an effective enough control and deterrent in their current form.
Strict new rules went into effect following the 2011 review, and were revised in 2012 to allow for more judgement on the part of riders and stewards. The updated rules allow jockeys to use their crops eight times in British flat races; any strikes past that number trigger a stewards’ review. Eight. That’s about a quarter of the hits Espinoza gave American Pharoah.
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