The final leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown takes place this weekend, along with MLB playoffs, the NBA Finals, football, the French Open and the Keeneland fall meet. The 2020 Pandemic Preakness is unique both in its spot on the calendar (1st Saturday in October as opposed to the 3rd Saturday in May) and its placement in the 3yo classic sequence. Normally the middle leg of the series, the 145th running of Baltimore’s premier race constitutes the final jewel of the Covid Crown. While the sports landscape is a crowded one for the time being, with late starts and re-starts adding congestion to a normally full autumn calendar, racing should not be lost in the shuffle this weekend. With just 5 weeks remaining before the Breeders’ Cup, tracks across the country are hosting pivotal prep races. Keeneland, as this year’s host site for thoroughbred racing’s world championship event, is certainly no exception. Four races on today’s card offer a fees paid birth to the winner – three more on Sunday. We’ll focus this piece on the Saturday stakes action in Lexington as well as the Preakness card from Pimlico.
KEENELAND, RACE 6 — Grade 2 Woodford
Take it up with the Breeders’ Cup if you’re wondering why this race doesn’t gift a Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint post position to the victor. This race will be run over the same course and distance as that championship event in 5 weeks time. A wide-open field of nine will take to the post, and it looks like a rider’s race on paper as none of these possess much early lick for a group of turf sprinters.
Chaos Theory ships in from California for trainer John Sadler off a well intentioned half mile breeze in :46 and 1 at Santa Anita one week ago. It’s notable that the west coast’s top jockey Umberto Rispoli sees fit to maintain the mount as this is one of only two California-based horses for which he has the call on this card. Leinster won the Shakertown over course and distance in July and could certainly repeat as he has shown an affinity for the Keeneland green with 2 wins and a runner-up performance in 3 prior attempts. Extravagant Kid will have to work out a suitable trip from the rail, something he was unable to do when 5th in the Shakertown. Win Lion Win and Citrus Burst are really the only two that would shock in this spot.
KEENELAND, RACE 7 — Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America
The aforementioned Rispoli’s other California based mount, Sneaking Out, may end up a slight favorite in this Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint qualifier. She has won two straight graded stakes contests in Southern California, but taking a third will be no easy task. Given the rail draw, she is likely to be hard pressed by both Palace Avenger and Lady’s Island from the outset. With plenty of room to improve in just her sixth lifetime start, Dos Vinos could wind up the primary beneficiary of a speed duel between the top three.
KEENELAND, RACE 8 — Grade 1 First Lady
In a compact field with no other speed signed on, Newspaperofrecord looks extremely dangerous on paper. However, she failed to see out the distance at Churchill last month after cruising through an opening half mile in a shade under :48. Beau Recall had no problem rallying into that tepid pace and blowing past the field to a 1 and 1/2 length triumph in the Distaff Turf Mile on Derby day. Uni is the defending champion of both this race and the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but she’s been beaten nearly ten lengths combined in her only two outings of 2020. Now 6, the daughter of More Than Ready’s best days may be behind her.
KEENELAND, RACE 9 — Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity
As the only horse in the race to have navigated a second turn, King Fury holds a decided advantage over his competition in that regard. He beat 11 others to the wire, nearly 3 lengths the best, in a maiden contest at Churchill last month. The son of Curlin was similarly drawn to the outside that day as well.
Essential Quality exhibited a generous amount of professionalism capturing his debut in Louisville on Derby day. The Brad Cox trainee has trained forwardly since and is bred to appreciate today’s added distance. Calibrate demolished nine other maidens at Saratoga in his debut, and his work tab reads like a star in the Steve Asmussen barn. Two sons of Upstart round out the primary contenders. Upstriker dominated his Ellis Park debut by 5 lengths for Ron Moquett while Founder took to the Saratoga mud to just get up by a neck over next-out winner Highly Motivated.
KEENELAND, RACE 10 — Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile
Halladay was very impressive taking the Fourstardave at Saratoga in August, but will likely face far more pace pressure in this spot given the presence of Spectacular Gem and Ivar. Flavius finally put it all together for Chad Brown in the Tourist Mile. The son of War Front is heading in the right direction at the right time and rates a strong chance of finding the winner’s enclosure if he can repeat his performance from Kentucky Downs. Analyze It took a long time to get back to the races after a successful sophomore campaign, but did so with aplomb in his Red Bank conquest at Monmouth. He should move forward from that effort, and if he does, could prove the one to beat. Born Great is taking a huge leap up the class ladder in his 3rd start in 4 weeks. The confidence displayed by Brendan Walsh with that kind of move must be respected.
Keeneland All Stakes Pick 5 Wager:
Race 6 – Chaos Theory
Race 7 – Sneaking Out, Lady’s Island and Dos Vinos
Race 8 – Newspaperofrecord and Beau Recall
Race 9 – King Fury, Essential Quality, Calibrate, Upstriker and Founder
Race 10 – Flavius, Analyze It and Born Great
PIMLICO, RACE 5 — Grade 3 Miss Preakness
Mundaye Call took the worst of it at the post draw for the Eight Belles. Buried on a dead rail, she took all the heat through a blistering half mile in :44 flat and melted down in the final furlong to fade to 4th. She has a much better draw toward the outside today which should allow Florent Geroux to do as he pleases depending on how quickly Ain’t No Elmers and Fly On Angel decide to go from the inside. The daughter of Into Mischief should appreciate the cut back in distance as well. She looks quite formidable in this spot.
PIMLICO, RACE 6 — Grade 2 Dinner Party
The Brad Cox daily double looks like a solid wager in the 5th as Factor This just looks slightly better than this group. His tactical speed is the differentiator as he can race effectively from the front or rating just off the leaders. Four victories in 7 attempts at the distance highlights the fact that the 8 1/2 furlongs hits him right between the eyeballs.
PIMLICO, RACE 10 — Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan
The combination of Miss Marissa and Landing Zone should keep things just honest enough up front to set up the late kick of Bonny South. The Juddmonte filly has a class edge on the field. Anything close to her runner-up performance behind Swiss Skydiver in the Alabama should be good enough to ace this test.
PIMLICO, RACE 11 — Grade 1 Preakness
Art Collector grabbed a quarter during morning training the week of the Derby and was forced to withdraw from the race. The Bernardini colt has trained exceptionally in three breezes since and appears fit and ready to take this race by the throat. His versatility allows Brian Hernandez Jr. to place him wherever he pleases, which won’t be too far back. Expect a huge effort from the Bluegrass winner. Mr. Big News put forth a smashing effort in the Derby, and if he can run back to that he’ll once again be a major player here. However, he’s equally likely to bounce of such a big jump 4 weeks prior. Swiss Skydiver absolutely deserves her spot in the starting gate. She’ll give an excellent account of herself, as she always does, but has she improved enough since July to make up more than 3 lengths on Art Collector?
Bob Baffert is undefeated with Derby winners in the Preakness — a perfect 5 for 5. Put a bit differently, he has NEVER lost the Preakness after winning the Kentucky Derby. Authentic‘s win in Louisville one month ago was the culmination of one of Baffert’s finest training performances in an illustrious career. Very few handicappers gave the son of Into Mischief a chance to stay the 10 furlongs of the Run for the Roses, but the Hall of Fame trainer had prepped him adequately with a plethora of long, stamina inducing works — and he was justly rewarded with his sixth garland of roses. Two bullet breezes in the interim suggest the colt may just now be hitting his peak. Best of luck trying to knock the king from his throne.
Preakness Wager: Superfecta
1st: Art Collector and Authentic
2nd: Art Collector and Authentic
3rd: Excession, Mr. Big News, Swiss Skydiver, Thousand Words, Max Player, Pneumatic, and Liveyourbeastlife
4th: Excession, Mr. Big News, Swiss Skydiver, Thousand Words, Max Player, Pneumatic, and Liveyourbeastlife
Best of luck at the windows and enjoy an action packed, sports-filled weekend.