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Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter is a 6-5 favorite in the morning line for the 147th Preakness, where he will try to reclaim his status as the top horse in this year’s 3-year-old class.
Epicenter went off as the Derby favorite and appeared in perfect position to win until 80-1 long shot Rich Strike passed him shortly before they hit the wire. The 1-2 finishers were on track for a Preakness rematch until Rich Strike’s owner, Rick Dawson, announced the Derby champion would skip the $1.65-million race in favor of resting up for the Belmont Stakes.
Epicenter would likely have been favored at Pimlico Race Course anyway, but Rich Strike’s withdrawal guaranteed he would be the clear choice. The Louisiana Derby champion will break from the No. 8 post as determined by Monday’s post-position draw for the nine-horse Preakness field.
The Preakness favorite looked comfortable during a half-mile breeze at Churchill Downs on Monday morning, and trainer Steve Asmussen plans to put him on a van early Tuesday for the 11-hour ride to Baltimore. Though Rich Strike’s charge denied Asmussen his first Derby win, the Hall of Fame trainer has enjoyed some of his greatest successes at Pimlico, where he won the 2007 Preakness with Curlin and the 2009 Preakness with Rachel Alexandra.
Trainer Chad Brown saddled Zandon to oppose Epicenter in the Derby; two weeks later, he’ll take his Preakness shot with a fresh horse in Early Voting, a 7-2 second choice in the morning line. Early Voting qualified for the Derby field, but Brown and owner Seth Klarman, who grew up a few blocks from Pimlico, opted to skip the race and point to the Preakness.
They’re attempting to follow the same formula they used to take the race with Cloud Computing in 2017, betting that Early Voting’s freshness will be more telling than his relative lack of experience. The Wood Memorial runner-up will break from the No. 5 post.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will try to win his seventh Preakness with Kentucky Oaks-winning filly Secret Oath, a 9-2 third choice in the morning line. Secret Oath finished third when she ran against male horses as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby, but Lukas and her owners, Rob and Stacy Mitchell, agreed it was worth trying to “step outside the box” by taking a shot in the Preakness.
“I think the Preakness suits her as far as timing,” Rob Mitchell said. “Totally different horse than after the Arkansas Derby. She started her move so soon in the Arkansas Derby that she was totally depleted with half a furlong to go. Then you go all out that last half-furlong when you have no gas in the tank. She was really washed out for a few days. But that wasn’t the case with the Oaks. If anything, it might have made her stronger.”
Swiss Skydiver in 2020 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009 were the only fillies to win the Preakness since 1924. Lukas won the 1988 Kentucky Derby with the filly Winning Colors, who came back to finish third at Pimlico.
Secret Oath will break from the No. 4 post.
Fourth-place Derby finisher Simplification is the 6-1 fourth choice in the morning line. He was the first Preakness horse to arrive at Pimlico last week, and assistant trainer Jesus Prada said he loves the surface.
“I read [jockey] John Velazquez hasn’t won the Preakness. He will win the Preakness with this horse,” Prada said. Simplification drew the dreaded No. 1 post on the far inside.
Owners Paul Fireman and Greg Back paid an extra $150,000 to get Creative Minister in the Preakness field after he was not originally nominated for the Triple Crown series. The gray colt did not make his debut until March but took a step forward with his decisive win in an allowance race on the Derby undercard. Now, he’s a 10-1 choice in the morning line for the Preakness and will break from the No. 2 post.
“He had what I call some growing issues,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, who won the Preakness with Swiss Skydiver. “When we got him ready this spring, I didn’t Triple Crown nominate him because I didn’t think he’d be ready. Since then, he’s just blossomed. His last two starts have been completely professional.”
Armagnac, one of the horses transferred from suspended trainer Bob Baffert to his former assistant, Tim Yakteen, was a late addition to the field. He finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby but bounced back to win an allowance race in California the day after the Kentucky Derby.
“The horse is well, and statistically we’ve got one of the best jockeys [Irad Ortiz Jr.] in the nation,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing, part of the ownership group behind Armagnac. “Sometimes, when you’re healthy and well, if the opportunity is there, you have to make a decision. Do I want to go large or [not]? It’s coming together in a way that we feel comfortable with the challenge.”
Armagnac is a 12-1 choice in the morning line and will break from the No. 7 post.
Saffie Joseph Jr. was disappointed with White Abarrio’s 16th-place finish in the Derby, but the Florida-based trainer will take a Preakness shot with Skippylongstocking, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial. He’s betting the 1 3/16-mile distance will suit his horse. “I think the distance is going to help him, but obviously, he’s going to face quality horses like Epicenter and the Chad Brown one that beat him in the Wood [Early Voting],” Joseph said. “We’re just taking a chance.”
Skippylongstocking is a 20-1 choice in the morning line and will break from the No. 9 post.
Shortly after Rich Strike was withdrawn from the field, trainer Doug O’Neill and Calumet Farm owner Brad Kelley decided to take a shot at the Preakness with Happy Jack, who finished 14th in the Derby.
“He is checking all the boxes of a horse that exited his recent race in good shape. We like the Preakness distance, and we like a shorter field than the 20 horses in the Derby,” said O’Neill, who won the 2012 Preakness with I’ll Have Another. Happy Jack is a 30-1 choice in the morning line and will break from the No. 6 post.
Fenwick, the 11th-place finisher in the Blue Grass Stakes, is the longest shot in the morning line at 50-1. He’ll break from the No. 3 post after joining the field shortly before the Monday entry deadline.
The Preakness lost an expected entrant Monday morning when Un Ojo showed warmth in the same injured foot that kept him out of the Derby. Trainer Ricky Courville said the gelding must have aggravated the injury during weekend preparations for the Preakness.
His withdrawal left the field at nine horses, slightly below the average of 10 over the previous decade.
147th Preakness Stakes
Pimlico Race Course
TV: Chs. 11, 4 (coverage begins at 2 p.m.)