A fixture in Kentucky Derby follow-ups, “new shooters” identifies Preakness participants that did not run at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
New losers is more apropos.
Only three times in the last 27 years has the Preakness winner missed the Derby and that includes Rachel Alexandra crushing fillies in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the 2009 Derby and beating the boys 15 days later.
Since 2007, American Pharoah (2015), California Chrome (2014), I’ll Have Another (2012), and Big Brown (2008) have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Other than those four and the filly, recent Preakness winners and their Derby finish:
2016 — Exaggerator, second.
2013 — Oxbow, sixth.
2011 — Shackleford, fourth.
2010 — Lookin at Lucky, sixth.
2007 — Curlin, third.
So, what to make of the Derby also-rans back for the Preakness and the five Preakness runners on the sideline during the Derby?
Three weeks prior to Always Dreaming’s victory in the Derby, Senior Investment won a stakes and trainer Ken McPeek mentioned the Preakness as a next-race possibility. The day after the Derby, he confirmed the plan, saying Always Dreaming was the only Derby runner that impressed him. Other than the April 15 race, Senior Investment has won a maiden race in New Orleans and an allowance race at Oaklawn Park in six starts.
Also in the Derby aftermath, trainer Doug O’Neill said he planned to enter Term of Art in the Preakness. “We think he has classic-type ability and we’re going to roll the dice,” he said, referring to a horse that has not finished better than third in four stakes this year.
Multiplier will get some attention on Saturday because his winning time in the Illinois Derby time was super fast, but even cheap horses ran fast that day at Hawthorne and his speed figure was a mundane 88. Winning the Derby, Always Dreaming earned a 102, a difference of about eight lengths.
Among those new to the Preakness, one with Oaklawn ties is worth a second look.
Beaten a half-length in the Arkansas Derby by Classic Empire, a solid second choice in the Preakness wagering, Conquest Mo Money was not eligible for the Triple Crown races and his owner passed on paying $200,000 to run at Churchill. But, Tom McKenna forked over $150,000 to run his horse in Baltimore. Unraced at 2, Conquest Mo Money has two first and two seconds in four starts.
Personally, he is the most attractive of the fresh faces and that brings the discussion back to Derby runners.
Deservedly, Always Dreaming will be the solid favorite, and Classic Empire will get the support of many because of his determined fourth at Churchill after a troubled trip.
For those investing in an exacta box, either guts or stupidity is necessary to exclude both favorites and remember the bettors’ choice has won the Preakness on 72 of 141 occasions.
The Preakness comes down to whether Always Dreaming duplicates his Derby effort. If so, Triple Crown talk begins. Non-believers embrace the fact that Always Dreaming trainer Todd Pletcher abhors running horses after a short layoff and that the colt was never confronted in the Derby or the Florida Derby.
Amateur horseplayers who invest minimally and include a favorite in exacta boxes must also incorporate at least one “price” horse to make the wager potentially worthwhile. To that end, blaming the sloppy track at Churchill for the lackluster performance of Gunnevera is convenient. A confirmed closer, he might have double-digit odds.
The track condition might also excuse Hence’s 11th-place finish at Churchill. The winner of a maiden race at Oaklawn, but ninth in the Southwest, Hence won the Sunland Derby prior to Kentucky. He would be easy to dismiss if not in the care of Steve Asmussen, Oaklawn’s eight-time leading trainer.
For Oaklawn partisans, one option is to box three or four that competed in Arkansas. With that approach, Classic Empire is a must use.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org