Hard not to like Animal Kingdom

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:30 PM ET

TORONTO - Each race in the U.S. Triple Crown carries it’s own set of challenges for horseplayers.

Before the Kentucky Derby, we worried about how horses would handle the bulky field, the huge crowd, and the Churchill surface.

We weighed the relative merits of prep races from across the country.

And we looked at all those Derby angles and myths, not to mention a quick check of each horse’s dosage index.

In other words, stuff that doesn’t come into play when handicapping the seventh at Finger Lakes or the second at Mountaineer.

The second leg of the series has always been the little sister. The Derby is America’s greatest racing tradition. The Belmont is the Test of the Champion. The Preakness is, just, there.

Still, a crowd approaching six figures will make their way to Baltimore and a Pimlico track that people wonder how much longer will exist given the issues surrounding Maryland racing. A full field of 14 starters will break from the gate just after 6 p.m. And handicappers will choose from one of three options.

Option one, just bet the Derby winner. If just one thing should strike you from the final few metres of Animal Kingdom’s win, it is that his stride showed us he is ready for more.

Horses who have won the first two legs in recent years showed they were so cranked up for the Derby that their form should carry over to this second start two weeks later.

Even horses who didn’t win the second leg have shown this as you can argue that in 2009, Mine That Bird may have run a better race in his Preakness defeat to super-filly Rachel Alexandra than he did in riding a benevolent rail to win in Louisville.

Option two, take another look at the Derby also-rans. And if the magnifying glass is to focus on one runner, it is Dialed In. Sent off as the 5-1 favourite, the Nick Zito trainee gave himself no shot sitting 12th after the slowest fast-track, six-furlong split in the past 60 years.

His Florida Derby win was the most impressive prep race prior to that so with a pace expected to be faster and a better settling spot, he has a chance.

Also with a chance is Mucho Macho Man, who was third in the race after a more sensible run. The son of Macho Uno should be able to challenge for the lead early in the stretch and try to outgun the others to the wire.

Shackleford set that slow pace in the Derby and won’t get away with that this time. Midnight Interlude will have to make a monumental improvement to challenge here.

Then there is option three, look at the runners who didn’t run in Louisville. A horse running two weeks after his last start used to be no big deal. But those days are long gone so a fresh challenger may be a good option. Trouble here is, who?

Recently, new shooters who have won the Preakness came in with strong credentials. Dance City may get some consideration as he was just behind Derby runner-up Nehro in the Arkansas Derby. And Astrology has hit the board in all seven of his starts, coming off a second-place finish in the Jerome at Aqueduct.

Otherwise, King Congie, second in a dull Blue Grass? Flashpoint? Sway Away? Isn’t He Perfect? Mr. Commons? Nothing exciting here.

May as well try a couple of bombers to round out the deep exotic tickets. Concealed Identity is a recent stakes winner at Pimlico, so he knows the place. And the improving Norman Asbjornson has the confidence of his trainer.

But likely it’s one of two scenarios. Dialed In will redeem himself for the errors made in the Derby. Or Animal Kingdom will be two-thirds of the way to making sure the triple-crown drought doesn’t hit 33 years.

Preakness by the numbers

Distance: 1 3/16 miles.

Purse: $1 million.

Post time: 6:18 p.m.

Post positions and odds

1. Astrology, Mike Smith, 15-1

2. Norman Asbjornson, Julian Pimentel, 30-1

3. King Congie, Robby Albarado, 20-1

4. Flashpoint, Cornelio Velasquez, 20-1

5. Shackleford, Jesus Castanon, 12-1

6. Sway Away, Garrett Gomez, 15-1

7. Midnight Interlude, Martin Garcia, 15-1

8. Dance City, Ramon Dominguez, 12-1

9. Mucho Macho Man, Rajiv Maragh, 6-1

10. Dialed In, Julian Leparoux, 9-2

11. Animal Kingdom, John Velazquez, 2-1

12. Isn’t He Perfect, Edgar Prado, 30-1

13. Concealed Identity, Sheldon Russell, 30-1

14. Mr. Commons, Victor Espinose, 20-1

richard.mauntah@sunmedia.ca


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