by Margaret Ransom
Every year after the dust settles on the Kentucky Derby (GI), racing fans turn their heads east and focus on Baltimore and the Preakness Stakes (GI) where those left standing after battling under the Twin Spires take on a group of fresh faces. Instead of “new shooters,” we’ll refer to them as “classic stakes rookies.”
For the first time in 23 years, the Derby winner will not compete in Baltimore, as Country House developed a cough in the days after the Derby. Initial Derby winner Maximum Security, with all the drama surrounding him and in legal limbo, will also miss the second jewel of the Triple Crown and is already at his home base of Monmouth Park looking toward a summer campaign that may or may not include the Belmont Stakes (GI) next month.
The connections of 11 runners are currently considered likely for the Preakness, according to their connections, including four from Louisville, one standout local hope, a colt making his stakes debut and a couple who had Derby dreams dashed by falling short in Road to the Derby points.
Here’s a glimpse of the horses in search of the garland of Black-Eyed Susans in just more than a week:
This son of Stay Thirsty represents the best of the local competition and has won his last six races, all at Laurel Park, including the Federico Tesio by 11 ½ lengths at odds of 1-9 last out. Overall the Runnymede Racing-owned gelding has won seven of 12 starts, six of which came in stakes company, and makes his graded debut in the Preakness. Though trainer Kelly Rubley has trained some good horses, like Grade 3 winner Divisidero, Alwaysmining may be her best yet and will also represent her first Preakness starter. Jockey Daniel Centeno has ridden his share of good horses, including Ring Weekend, Devilish Lady and Musket Man, but has yet to win the Preakness Stakes.
The El Camino Real Derby winner came painfully close to making the Kentucky Derby gate with runner-up finishes in the Sunland Park Derby (GII) and Lexington Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland, but when it was clear there wouldn’t be enough defections from the big dance, his connections wisely decided to focus on the Preakness. Northern California-based trainer Blaine Wright trains this $360,000 son of the late Scat Daddy for Peter Redekop, both of whom have had a lot of success with graded stakes runners in the U.S. and Canada, but the Preakness is by far their biggest stage. Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz, who was aboard Derby third-place (fourth-place?) finisher Tacitus, will ride this colt for the first time.
This maiden son of Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, was part of the Derby bumping kerfuffle (or whatever you want to call it), as jockey Chris Landeros had to check numerous times. He ended up finishing 13th and nobody really knows if he could have placed better, but he was rolling at the time he was stopped. His best performance so far was a second behind Maximum Security in the Florida Derby, so it’s logical to think a clean trip could have made a difference. His connections, which include first-time Preakness trainer and co-owner Gustavo Delgado, will rightfully roll the dice here looking for an initial win. There hasn’t been a decision on whether Landeros will return to ride.
Trainer Mark Hennig announced on Twitter mid-week that Irad Ortiz Jr. would be aboard this talented son of Tapit, who was fourth in the Florida Derby (GI) six weeks ago and will be racing off a six-week rest, in the Preakness. The owners of this son of Tapit – Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable – were hopeful to make the Derby after his runner-up finish to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth, but after his even performance in the Florida Derby they decided what was best for him was to wait. Ortiz, who was on fifth-place Derby finisher Improbable, hasn’t won the Preakness yet though he is the reigning Eclipse Award winner.
The Bob Baffert-trained son of City Zip was the actual Derby favorite at 4-1, but nobody seems to remember in all the hoopla surrounding the DQ heard ‘round the world. He crossed the wire just 3 ¼ lengths behind the winner after a pretty even effort. He was well behind the incident still in question and apparently is no worse for wear, so Baffert decided to ship the WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing-owned chestnut to Baltimore. Baffert, who has won the Preakness a record-tying seven times (including with two Triple Crown winners) gives the call to his go-to rider, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has won the Preakness twice.
This son of Union Rags will be representing longtime thoroughbred owners Alex and JoAnne Lieblong off a win in the Oaklawn Invitational Stakes on Derby Day. He’s had two previous graded stakes starts, which produced a seventh in a division of the Rebel Stakes (GII) and a fourth in the Arkansas Derby (GI), and now returns to the elite level for the Preakness. Steve Asmussen is his trainer and looking for his third Preakness Stakes score and he uses one of his main jockeys in Ricardo Santana Jr.
the minute the official sign went up following his win in the Lexington Stakes three weeks ago, trainer Brad Cox was saying the next race for the colt, provided he was in good shape, would be the Preakness and true to his word, this Into Mischief colt will be in the gate in Baltimore. He’ll definitely be taking a jump up in class, but most of his Preakness rivals are in the same boat. Cox’s star is certainly on the rise and he has yet to win a classic, but it’s probably only a matter of time. Florent Geroux is going to be back aboard the bay Rupp Racing-owned colt in Maryland.
He was a bright spot on the early Kentucky Derby trail as a juvenile, winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GI) and finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), but his sophomore season so far hasn’t been what his connections had hoped for, stopping and starting with a seventh in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in February and a third in the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) in April. Regrouping, this is probably a good spot to return for the son of General Quarters. Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. will be back aboard for trainer Kenny McPeek.
While the racing powers determine his role in the first actual DQ for interference in Kentucky Derby history, trainer Mark Casse will be tightening the girth on Gary Barber’s War Front colt for the Preakness. He’s probably among the top three to head to Baltimore, talent-wise, and if he’s no worse for wear from his bumpy Derby will certainly be fit and ready for this race. Casse and jockey Tyler Gaffalione are both winless in the Preakness, but a clean trip finally after two bum trips in his last two could change all that.
a late addition to the Preakness circus, this Florida-bred son of Munnings will be Cox’s second runner here. The second jewel of the Triple Crown will be the Second Strike Racing and Madakat Racing-owned colt’s stakes debut after breaking his maiden and winning an allowance race by a combined 12 ½ length in his last two, both at 1 1/16 miles. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who has won two Preakness Stakes on Bernardini and Cloud Computing, will ride, according to Cox.
This gorgeous nearly black son of Hat Trick ran a very even ninth in the Kentucky Derby and the Mike Trombetta trainee is returning to what amounts to home for the Preakness in that he started his career at Laurel Park and trains up the road at Fair Hill. He looked spectacular setting a course record at Tampa Bay Downs in January, but has performed a bit below expectations since. He’s certainly well-traveled and will be fit, so maybe he’ll be Trombetta’s best chance for his first Preakness. Julien Pimentel is set to return to accept the riding assignment.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.