With the last leg of the COVID-19-revamped Triple Crown series on Saturday, it’s time to take a deeper dive into the 145th running of the Preakness Stakes. Eleven runners will be entering the gate at 5:45 p.m. ET. The field features frontrunners and stalkers of varying pedigrees, headlined by 2020 Kentucky Derby winner Authentic.
No. 9 Authentic (9-5): Despite technically being the “second choice” on paper in the Kentucky Derby, he was a very distant second choice at 8-1, compared to favorite Tiz The Law at 4-5. This was chiefly due to the concerns of whether Authentic could handle the distance. Had Authentic demonstrated that distance wouldn’t be a potential issue in a prior race, he likely would have still been the second choice, but the betting public would’ve had a much more favorable opinion. This is especially true considering his Bob Baffert connection and being the logical main speed in the race. So that Derby win and the absence of Tiz The Law make Authentic Saturday’s favorite.
The only concern in going all-in on Authentic is that he didn’t have to exert an excessive amount of effort to earn the lead and subsequently maintain it, up until the final stretch when he was challenged by Tiz The Law. Granted, Authentic did not have the cleanest break and would’ve preferred to secure the lead a bit earlier. Nevertheless, it appeared the rest of the field was almost waiting for Authentic to assume his role as the leader, which may not happen Saturday. Accordingly, a poor break from an outside post in this field of capable frontrunning talent could spell early trouble for Authentic.
Chief among Authentic’s competition for the early lead may be Art Collector, the No. 3 colt trained by Thomas Drury Jr.
No. 3 Art Collector (5-2): Art Collector is coming into the Preakness on a dominant five-race winning streak. Although it’s worth noting he hasn’t exactly faced many world-beaters, he has demonstrated the ability to win both with the lead from the onset and from off the pace. Art Collector was scratched from the Kentucky Derby the week of the race with a heel issue. While he has since gotten the green light from medical staff to get back on the track and has turned in some impressive workouts, much like any other athlete, injury concerns will likely continue to linger around Art Collector.
Given Art Collector’s run-style history, it is a bit difficult to predict exactly what style jockey Brian “B.J.” Hernandez Jr. will utilize Saturday. It would be reasonable to assume Hernandez would want to avoid an early speed duel with Authentic and be positioned right behind the leaders for the bulk of the race and have enough in the tank to make a move later rather than earlier. But coming from the No. 3 starting position and with no speed to his inside, it’s very plausible to assume Hernandez will go for an early lead and secure the coveted inside rail position. Either way, expect a feverish pace in the front.
Joining the fray of early leaders will likely be No. 4 Swiss Skydiver, trained by Kenneth McPeek.
No. 4 Swiss Skydiver (6-1): The lone filly in the field proved in the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes that she is more than capable of holding her own against the boys, finishing second behind Art Collector. If the Blue Grass Stakes is any indication of what her strategy will be facing off with Art Collector, she will try to push for the lead early, hoping this time she will have enough left in the tank to fend off Art Collector’s late charge. It’ll be interesting to see how much the presence of Authentic, a superior frontrunner, will play into team Swiss Skydiver’s decision on how to attack the race.
Since the Blue Grass, Swiss Skydiver has proven distance to not be a concern, producing her strongest statistical performance winning the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes (G1) on Aug. 15. Outside of Authentic, you’re looking at probably the most battle-tested horse in the field in terms of graded company, yet she’s finished on the board in her seven starts this year. For that reason, Swiss Skydiver will likely be the decisive third favorite.
Outside of the two heavy favorites and what I expect to be a heavily bet down Swiss Skydiver, the remainder of the field largely appears to be on equal footing. This puts a premium on handicapping. With so many moderate-to-steep odds in play, knowing how to bet is equally as important as knowing who to bet.
The underdogs to watch
No. 5 Thousand Words (6-1): This Bob Baffert colt was a last-minute scratch in the Kentucky Derby after flipping on his side right before the race. He posed a dynamic threat to the field that day and would have likely been in the mix down the stretch. He is coming off the best race of his career in the Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes, which also produced his highest speed figure to date. I had pegged Thousand Words as a prime Kentucky Derby upset pick, and I expect Bob Baffert to have his horse ready to deliver on Saturday.
No. 2 Mr. Big News (12-1): What makes Mr. Big News an interesting play is that he is one of the lone closers in the field. His most successful outings have come with jockey Gabriel Saez, and Saez knows how to get the most out of him.
Most recently, Mr. Big News and Saez turned in a strong third-place performance in the Kentucky Derby, which led to his fastest speed figure (101) to date. While most everyone’s attention was fixed on the late duel between Authentic and Tiz The Law, Mr. Big News was picking off competitors down the stretch. What was especially impressive about that effort was that it occurred despite the pace of the Derby not being particularly fast. Closers are at their best when the bulk of the field shoots to the lead, and they can sit back and kick into gear about three-quarters of the way, sometimes later, and finish just in time to clinch first. Authentic didn’t have much competition to secure the lead, and subsequently, the pace of the race was slower than it would’ve been if there were fierce competition early on.
The Preakness is top-heavy with competent frontrunners that will likely challenge Authentic for the early lead, thus pushing the tempo of the overall race and setting up the opportunity for a big finish by Mr. Big News.
No. 11 Liveyourbeastlife (30-1): On paper, this colt is easy to overlook. His numbers are mundane, no major victories, and he doesn't have big-name connections. What I see from Liveyourbeastlife is a significant improvement over his last three races. Specifically last time out in the Sept. 5 Jim Dandy Stakes, when on a few occasions throughout the race he looked finished, but continued to dig deep and battle back, ultimately finishing second. He could be prime for a breakthrough at the Preakness.
How I would wager
Win bet on all my outlined “long shots:” No. 5 Thousand Words (6-1), No. 2 Mr. Big News (12-1), No. 11 Liveyourbeastlife (30-1)
Trifecta Box: Authentic, Art Collector, Swiss Skydiver, Thousand Words, Mr. Big News, Liveyourbeastlife
If this gets too expensive, consider using the same selections in an Exacta Box.
‘Why not bet a favorite to win?’
As a value player, my sole mission is to look for instances where I think the betting public is wrong. So a horse I feel has a favorable chance of winning will have inflated odds. Typically I look for these opportunities to present themselves in horses at 5-1 or above, but I am not necessarily opposed to taking advantage of shorter odds given the right circumstances. That coupled with the fact that I'm not overly confident in any of the favorites in this field is why I will pass on them.
The Authentic, Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver teams have some big decisions to make by post time that will decide the race. Will they all gun for the lead? Will any be content with operating off the pace? I forecast an intense early duel between Authentic and Swiss Skydiver, with Art Collector a step behind. Ultimately, I do think the intensity of the race for the early lead will take a toll on all three late. Whichever long-odds closer can keep pace during the quick start will be in the best position to pull off the upset late. I believe that will likely be Mr. Big News.
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