Let’s Focus on Who’s in the Preakness Stakes, Not Who Isn’t

USR-Preakness-OddsFrom 1991 to 2000, I taught social studies at the secondary level. As a teacher, one of the things you have to deal with is absenteeism. Teachers, administrators and politicians spend a lot of time dealing with those who don’t come to school. One of my former colleagues, Sharon Howe, used to say, “Teach who’s here.”  It was her opinion (and I agreed) that we should worry more about who’s in school than who isn’t.

The above scenario reminds me of the 2019 Preakness Stakes. Not only are we still up in arms over the Kentucky Derby DQ, we are also too concerned about two horses — Maximum Security and Country House — that aren’t in Baltimore running in the race.  We also do a good job of lamenting why many Derby horses skip the second leg of the Triple Crown. We hear things like nobody cares; TV ratings will be low; and that the sport can’t recover because of what happened at Churchill Downs on May 4.

I’m choosing to follow Howe’s advice and will celebrate the horses that are running in the 144th Preakness Stakes this Saturday. And, despite the negativity in the air, there are 13 horses vying for the prestige of winning an American classic race. When those that cover the sport say things like “interest wanes,” and “no buzz,” I never understand it. Why not hype it up and promote what will be an excellent race, with an excellent field and an excellent purse of $1.5 million.

The Preakness is limited to 14 starters, so the fact that they have 13 running is a victory in itself. All have their own story and with plenty of intrigue.

Take Alwaysmining, for example. He is the Maryland-bred, the hometown boy if you will. He’s won six straight — all at Laurel — and he qualified for this race by outclassing the field in the 1 1/8 mile Frederico Tesio Stakes. The Tesio winner is given a spot in the Preakness, but for the most part, Tesio winners don’t handle the huge leap in class that the Preakness offers. Could Alwaysmining turn the tide and give Maryland breeding a huge shot in the arm?

Another horse of intrigue is Laughing Fox. Like ‘Mining, the “Fox” automatically qualified by winning the inaugural running of the Oaklawn Invitational on Derby Day. When Oaklawn decided to run past the Arkansas Derby, they added this race to give some extra sizzle to the end of their 2019 season. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the son of Belmont winner Union Rags seems to be hitting his stride at the right time. After finishing seventh in the Rebel, he was a solid fourth in the Arkansas Derby before winning the aforementioned Oaklawn Invitational. If you’re looking for a horse on the come, Laughing Fox could have you laughing all the way to the bank.

Market King is another new shooter. When you look at the resume of the son of Into Mischief, it isn’t very good. If he applied for a job at your office, he wouldn’t be called in for an interview. After a decent third in the Rebel, he was an out-of-the-county 11th in the Arkansas Derby.

So, why is he intriguing? Why does he warrant space here? Well, he is trained by the legend — Hall of Famer, D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas is a curious one. He may not produce champions like he did in his heyday, but despite being 83, he still has his fastball and, unlike some trainers, he’s never afraid to run a horse in the big race.

Guys like Pletcher, Mott and McGaughey won’t run a horse that isn’t 100 percent conditioned, but Lukas will. He’s also willing to run a horse back after a so-so performance. We saw him do this with Oxbow in 2013. The colt ran a nondescript sixth in the Kentucky Derby, but that was deceiving. He was picking off horses at the end and Lukas ran him back in the Preakness — and he won.

Market King’s only win came in February in a maiden special weight at Oaklawn, but if you put stock in workouts, his last two were sharp. He went 1:00.20 for five furlongs on May 7 and then came back four days later, traveling five furlongs in 1:00.40. That’s vintage Lukas — run ‘em and run ‘em often.

With a name like Bourbon War, this is a colt that should’ve run in the Kentucky Derby, but was short on points. The pedigree is sound — Tapit the sire, Artie Schiller the broodmare sire. Trainer Mark Hennig worked for Lukas and has been on his own since 1993. He doesn’t bring a ton of horses to Triple Crown races, so the fact that Bourbon War is heading to Pimlico might be a positive sign. He finished fourth in the Florida Derby and, prior to that, was second in the Fountain of Youth. He’s a closer, so if the pace up front is hot, Bourbon War could be poised to make a late run for the black-eyed Susans.

Warrior’s Charge has four starts in 2019, with two wins, both of which came at Oaklawn Park. He broke his maiden when he wired the field in 1:43.17 for 1 1/16 miles and then came back in an allowance optional claimer, also at Oaklawn, taking command at the quarter and winning in 1:42.58 for the same 1 1/16-mile distance. On paper, those aren’t impressive scores, but there is something going on here.

He had to be supplemented for $150,000 to get in and is only 12-1 on the morning line, meaning the handicapper thinks something could be brewing for the son of Munnings. You don’t supplement if you think the horse is an also-ran. He’ll likely provide some early pace and seems suited for the Pimlico track.

Anothertwistafate

Anothertwistafate

Our last horse to watch is Anothertwistafate. Like the winners of the Tesio and Oaklawn Invitational, this colt won an all-expenses paid trip to the Preakness by winning the El Camino Real Derby on Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields back on Feb. 16. He then finished second to Derby runner Cutting Humor in the Sunland Park Derby and followed that up with a second to fellow Preakness runner Owendale in the Lexington Stakes.  Even with just that one win, the oddsmakers have taken a liking to him; he sits at 6-1 on the morning line.

While many seemed more concerned over who’s not here, let’s direct our energies on those that are showing up for the 6:48 PM ET post on Saturday. This is not a bad field at all and you can make a case for most of the 13 starters. There’s a good mix of pacesetters, stalkers and closers so on paper, the 144th Preakness at Old Hilltop should be a good one.

The Preakness has always intrigued me. When the race ends, who knows where the horses will go. Some will head to Belmont, some will take a break, and some will go back to training, while others will gear up for races like the Ohio and West Virginia Derbies.

We should be in for a good race on a good day racing at Pimlico on Saturday.

John Furgele
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.

But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.

John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.

When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.

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