Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Preakness Stakes

Fresh

Trainer Art Sherman on California Chrome’s likely Preakness competition:

“You know, they’ve all gotten beat,” he said. “People are gonna have to realize [California Chrome] is coming off five victories straight and a lot of [these other] horses are still eligible for conditions. There are no bona fide stakes horses in there.

“If you’ve been in the game as long as I have, you’ve got to prove yourself. You’re not going to get away with an easy-go just because you’re fresh coming into this race. [Chrome] is a seasoned, veteran horse right now coming into these races and I think that’s going to be a big help for him.”

The Kentucky Derby winner and nine others are possible for next Saturday.

Three Days Out

When asked, before the 1983 Preakness, about Marfa’s quarter crack:

Lukas responded: “When you get so close to one of these Triple Crown races with a good horse you do everything you can to make the race.”

The reporter countered with this remark that ended the press conference: “That sounds great Mr. Lukas, but isn’t it the horse that’s going to have to run around the track on Saturday; not you?”

Deputed Testamony won, Marfa finished fourth.

The Last Leg

The way the Preakness Stakes is shaping up, California Chrome won’t meet many of those he beat in the Kentucky Derby again until the Belmont Stakes. That’s the race the Derby winner is most vulnerable, writes Sam Walker:

It is hard to be positive about the Belmont after [his Derby] run. Off such an ideal pace it would have been nice to see that margin of superiority extend ever further to the line, or at least hold true. But the fact is it diminished and over another furlong he might not have won.

The last Belmont quarter can be a killer. Just look at the recent sectional times:

The Third Classic

Orb is confirmed for the Belmont Stakes after a sharp work in company at Belmont on Sunday, joining Oxbow and what might be as many as many as 13 other starters in the final leg of the Triple Crown — neither the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness winner is scaring anyone away. Of the two, history suggests Oxbow is more likely to win — in the 21 times that the Derby and Preakness winners have met again in the Belmont, the Preakness winner has come out on top nine times, the Derby winner five, and the last time that happened was in 1984, when Swale redeemed himself after a historically bad Preakness loss (one that’s only been matched by Orb). Derby-Preakness winner exactas aren’t too common either, as Steven Crist points out in his discussion of Derby-Preakness winner rematches:

Only twice [since 1973] have the winners of the first two legs accounted for the Belmont exacta: Tabasco Cat-Go For Gin in 1994 (that exacta paid $19.20), and Hansel-Strike the Gold ($39.20) in 1991.

In recent years, the Belmont has been a rewarding race for longshot players, with bombs galore. The upcoming edition promises to keep the payouts up.

Tested

The top three finishers in the Preakness Stakes were making their 10th or 11th career starts — it’s been a while since anything like that’s happened in a Triple Crown race, as Superterrific confirmed by compiling 2007-2013 results. What will be interesting to see, going forward, is how this year’s classic contenders perform over the next few months (will they stick around for fall campaigns?), and if this is the beginning of a trend toward more starts for classic prospects.

Not So Slow

Left at the Gate posted a Preakness Stakes pace analysis that you should read in full, but the upshot is that on a slow track Oxbow:

… was a running fool and bottomed them all out, the way I see it.

Which is why Oxbow’s Preakness Beyer speed figure is 106, something Bill Oppenheim writes about in today’s Thoroughbred Daily News:

When I first saw the time of Saturday’s Preakness S. — 1:57:2/5, the slowest in 51 years … I thought the Beyer speed figure was sure to come back in the nineties. But when I looked at the times for the other dirt races — 1:10 and change for two six-furlong stakes, and 1:46 and change for and older filly-and-mare Grade III — it did look like the track was slow, and Andy Beyer confirmed there was a stiff headwind against the horses in the stretch.

Oppenheim also publishes a table (PDF), with data provided by Andrew Beyer, of the Beyer speed figures for all of the Triple Crown races from 1987 to 2013 (minus this year’s Belmont Stakes, of course), documenting the decline in figures over those years, and in particular, the sharp decline in figures over the past five years, especially in the Belmont Stakes. “That has to be the result of lack of stamina in pedigrees,” Beyer tells Oppenheim.

Trends in breeding can’t be ignored, but the data suggest that there may be additional factors at work, such as changing training practices and the elimination of routine steroid use. If you look at the Belmont Stakes figures, until 2005, the Belmont speed figures are generally in line with or higher than the figures for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Starting in 2006, the Belmont Stakes figure is consistently lower than both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness figures; from 2006-2012, no Belmont winner earns a higher Beyer than the winner of the Derby or the Preakness.

The most striking thing about the table, though, is that Belmont Stakes figures essentially collapse in 2008. That was the year Da’Tara earned a 99 after Big Brown faltered; no winner has been given better than 100 since. It may be chance, but the period beginning with 2006 coincides with a fresh-is-best training approach to the Triple Crown and then a string of Kentucky Derby winners with two preps, and the period beginning with 2008 coincides with a Kentucky Derby winner weaned off Winstrol and an industry-wide steroids ban.

3:45 PM Addendum: Dick Jerardi explains how the 106 given Oxbow was determined: “The key horse in the Preakness was Itsmyluckyday …” (He was given a Beyer of 103 for finishing second.)

Orb and Swale

Post-Preakness, Marc Attenberg started a conversation on Twitter about the historical significance of Orb’s off-the-board finish by asking:

Last time a sub even-money Derby winner failed to hit the board in the Preakness? Not in 20 years or more? Anyone got the answer?

Swale was the answer. The 1984 Kentucky Derby winner, running second for much of the Preakness to pacesetter Fight Over (who held on for third), failed to kick in the stretch and finished seventh as the 4-5 favorite, beaten seven lengths by Gate Dancer (fifth in the Kentucky Derby*). Steven Crist, reporting for the New York Times, described Swale’s stunning defeat as:

the worst by any odds-on favorite in the history of the Preakness and the worst by any favorite since First Landing finished ninth in 1959.

No excuses were made for Swale, who would win the Belmont Stakes. “It was the consensus of most of us in the barn,” the colt’s groom Michael Klein wrote in his memoir, Track Conditions:

that Swale was running the race only because the Preakness was a jewel in the Crown, and to fulfill a theoretical obligation, he had to make a showing. The last jewel — the Belmont Stakes — was much more to his taste, both in terms of distance and quality of racing surface.

We’ll find out in a little less than three weeks, if Orb starts in the Belmont, whether the same can be said of him.

Below, Preakness winners and beaten Kentucky Derby winners, 1984-2013:


Preakness winners 1984-2013, where they finished in the Kentucky Derby, and their Preakness odds / Kentucky Derby winners, where they finished in the Preakness, and their Preakness odds / * = Preakness post-time favorite

Worth noting — Oxbow is the highest-priced Preakness winner of the past 30 years, confirming that the second leg of the Triple Crown hasn’t been the best race to look for longshots (the Belmont, though, is another matter).

*Fourth, actually, but the eccentric colt was disqualified and placed fifth for interference. It was the first DQ in Kentucky Derby history.

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