The Grade 1 Preakness Stakes is always a fun and exciting race to watch. Typically, the winner of the Kentucky Derby goes to Pimlico Race Course as the huge favorite for the prestigious middle jewel of the Triple Crown. This year, quite a different situation has developed. Derby favorite Bodemeister, who ended up finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, is the current favorite in the Preakness. Those who don’t follow horseracing much might be led to believe Bodemeister had worn the roses himself, because the majority of media attention since the first Saturday in May has been focused on the Bob Baffert trainee. Jockey Mike Smith will likely have Bodemeister on the lead in the Preakness, a similar tactic which almost won them the Run For The Roses two weeks ago. Baffert has saddled five Preakness winners in the past and will look to add a sixth on Saturday.
Now, enter I’ll Have Another. Just two short weeks ago, he stood under the Twin Spires with roses draped over his withers. The chestnut colt had achieved the ultimate dream of everyone in horseracing. With determination and heart, he had brought his connections, including young jockey Mario Gutierrez, charismatic trainer Doug O’Neill (who has never started a horse in the Preakness before), and owner J. Paul Reddam, to the pinnacle of Thoroughbred horseracing. I’ll Have Another wasn’t a major shocker when he crossed the finish line first in the Derby. In fact, his 3-year-old campaign had been highly impressive. After upsetting the field in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 43-1, people wondered if he was the real deal. A hard fought win over Creative Cause in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby next time out proved he wasn’t a fluke. Another stellar run May 5, where he beat one of the classiest fields assembled for the Kentucky Derby in years, should have silenced all his critics. However, all anyone seems to remember about the race is how good the runner-up Bodemeister performed. I’ll Have Another might be getting used to it though; he has never been favored in any of his starts. Even his pony (ex-racehorse and 5-time millionaire Lava Man) usually steals the spotlight from him.
So, how will this race be run? Bodemeister is almost assuredly going to bolt to the lead early in the race when he breaks from post 7. With no Trinniberg or Hansen to push him, giving him an easy and comfortable lead early could be the undoing of the other ten entrants. However, don’t think the Kentucky Derby winner will forget how dangerous the favorite is on the lead. I’ll Have Another has been known to front-run in the past, and he won his first career start in wire to wire fashion. Much will be decided as the horses sweep past the grandstand for the first time. Certainly, Mario Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another won’t want to allow Mike Smith and Bodemeister to lope along easily the entire race. An interesting game of cat and mouse should be developing by the time the horses charge into the first turn. Like Secretariat and Sham engaging in an epic clash going into the first turn of the Belmont Stakes in 1973, perhaps these two talented colts will begin their battle early.
So why has horseracing suddenly made this Planet Bodemeister and acted as if I’ll Have Another didn’t win the Derby fair and square? Bodemeister is obviously a very likeable and talented horse, but let’s pause for a moment and look at his campaign. The son of Empire Maker never raced as a 2-year-old. This means all five of his career races have come in 2012. Considering he will start in the Preakness tomorrow, this means that in 124 days, he will have raced six times, or about one race every 21 days. In modern day, this seems like a very tough and crowded schedule. This is especially worrisome when you consider Bodemeister’s front-running style. Although his connections contend he bounced back out of the Kentucky Derby in good form, remember that Bodemeister is still a horse. How many races can he run, as fast as he can on the lead, in this short of time before he has to throw in the towel? After wiring the field in the Arkansas Derby (G1) a mere 3 weeks before the Run For The Roses, it is a wonder the bay colt was able to hold on as long as he did. Just 14 days later, can he really be capable of running his best once more against this talented field?
Now, let’s look at I’ll Have Another’s campaign. As a juvenile, he raced three times, building a foundation. He wired the field in his maiden-breaking debut, before finishing 2nd in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes to Creative Cause (a race where he front ran again.) A poor trip and a 6th place finish in the sloppy Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes earned I’ll Have Another a winter vacation. He returned to the track 152 days later reenergized, taking the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. He took another break of 63 days before winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. It’s no question that the son of Flower Alley is much fresher than Bodemeister. Since shipping to Pimlico, the Derby champ has trained beautifully, and his camp has remained very confident in his abilities. If he does challenge Bodemeister going into the first turn, I’ll Have Another may prove to have much more energy.
A remarkable thing to consider, as we wait for this game of cat and mouse to unfold, is the fact that there are several other worthy contenders in this field. It is not, by any means, a two horse race. The most notable other entrants are Went The Day Well and Creative Cause, who finished 4th and 5th in the Kentucky Derby respectively. These two could be placed in a prime position to overtake both the Derby winner and runner-up if there is a hot pace up front. Trainer Michael Matz, who’s Derby entrant Union Rags suffered a horrendous trip two weeks ago, will send another colt out in the Preakness named Teeth Of The Dog. Two other horses who exited the Kentucky Derby, Daddy Nose Best (who finished 10) and Optimizer (who finished 11th), are both back for more in the Preakness. Trainer Dale Romans, who won the Preakness last year with Shackleford, will attempt to do it again this year with Cozetti, who drew the far outside post in the field of 11. Throw in longshots Tiger Walk, Pretension, and Zetterholm and you have a well rounded field ready to run in the 137th Preakness Stakes.
Most of the media has already crowned Bodemeister as the Preakness winner. By the time the horses go into the turn for the first time, we will have a much better idea of how all the complexities in this race will shape up. Who do you think will wear the black-eyed Susans at the end of the day tomorrow?