10 Key Questions (And Answers) About The Preakness Stakes Probable Field

Written By Paul Bergeron on May 7, 2021 - Last Updated on May 23, 2021
‘New Shooters’ take aim at Medina Spirit, while trainer Bob Baffert goes for another record.

By Paul Bergeron

Pimlico race track in Baltimore will host the 146th Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 15. It’s the second leg of the Triple Crown. The race is 1 3/16th miles on dirt.

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit leads a field of nine (and perhaps 10) in the Grade 1 race.

On May 1 in Louisville, Bob Baffert became the winningest Kentucky Derby trainer of all time. At Pimlico, Baffert is attempting to become the all-time winningest trainer in Preakness history. He’s tied with R. Wyndham Walden, whose wins were from 1875-1888. 

Baffert’s last two Preakness wins were Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015 — both horses went on to win the Triple Crown.

Will Medina Spirit or Bob Baffert ever be passed?

The Hall of Fame trainer surprised the horse-racing world on May 1 when Medina Spirit scored an upset victory at (12-1), holding off Mandaloun for the victory. Medina Spirit, once taking a lead, has never been passed in five career starts (two wins; placed second three times). 

He was passed up while on the auction block, however. He sold for just $1,000 as a yearling and was purchased by Amr Zedan’s stable for just $35,000 in July 2020.

What Kentucky Derby entrants will also get in the gate for the Preakness?

Joining Medina Spirit will be Midnight Bourbon, who closed from well back to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby. Midnight Bourbon will have top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. on board. Ortiz rode Known Agenda to a disappointing ninth-place finish at Churchill.

And Keepmeinmind, who rallied from last to finish seventh in the Kentucky Derby, also has entered.

Which noteworthy Derby horses are sitting this one out?

Essential Quality, fourth as the favorite in the Derby, won’t run in the Preakness, trainer Brad Cox said this week. EQ could go next in the June 5 Belmont Stakes. The Travers at Saratoga in August is a primary long-range goal.

Cox’s other standout runners, Mandaloun and Caddo River, aren’t entered. King Fury was a potential wise-guy choice in the Kentucky Derby. But he was scratched from the Derby with an elevated temperature and also won’t run in the Preakness, according to trainer Kenny McPeek.

If you didn’t run in the Derby, you won’t win the Preakness. True?

One of the unique angles for handicapping the Preakness Stakes involves the “new shooters,” or the horses in the field who did not run in the Kentucky Derby. New shooters don’t win very often but can help bettors to cash large payouts by finishing in the money.

Since 2000 (not including 2020), only four new shooters have won the Preakness. Looking at the best performance of a new shooter each year during that time period, they have an intriguing record of 20: 4-8-4. Horses from that year’s Derby swept all three of the trifecta positions four times. There has not been a new shooter trifecta since 2000.

Who was the last new shooter to win the Preakness?

Trainer Chad Brown’s Cloud Computing paid $28.80 to win in 2017, despite posting a pedestrian winning speed figure. There are intriguing similarities between Cloud Computing and Crowded Trade, Brown’s candidate for this year’s Preakness.

Each came in with three career races, both won their six-furlong debuts at Aqueduct, both finished second in the one-mile Gotham (G3) and both ended up third in the Wood Memorial (G2). Javier Castellano had the Preakness mount on Cloud Computing and is scheduled to be up on Crowded Trade.

Who are the other new shooters?

When a Derby horse wins the Preakness, 60% of the time, at least one new shooter is part of the trifecta. Baffert has potentially the most dangerous new shooter in Concert Tour, who was the Derby prep season’s leading candidate much of the way before bowing out for health reasons in mid-April. 

Todd Pletcher’s Unbridled Honor (details below), Rombauer (third in the Blue Grass Stakes in his last start) and France Go de Ina (sixth-place finish in the UAE Derby), who has jockey Joel Rosario in the irons, are worth looking into if you are playing that angle.

And Wayne Lukas, perhaps the Triple Crown’s most dominant trainer in the 1990s, will enter Ram, a horse from American Pharoah.

What impact will highly regarded Concert Tour have on the race?

Concert Tour was among the future-book favorites for the Derby after reeling off three straight wins to start his career, including the San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita in early February and Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn five weeks later. But after a head-scratching third-place effort in the April 10 Arkansas Derby (G1), it was decided Concert Tour would not run in the Derby.

Concert Tour often runs dominantly from the front. In the Kentucky Derby, almost inexplicably, the field let Medina Spirit go to the front and set the pace, and no horses truly challenged him until the final furlong. A critical strategic decision lies with Baffert in the Preakness about which of his horses will aim for the lead and which will stalk.

What happened to the much-ballyhooed Derby entrants from trainer Todd Pletcher?

The highly acclaimed New York-based trainer had an outstanding Derby prep season, qualifying four for the first Saturday in May, but none made much of an impression. Known Agenda placed ninth, followed by Sainthood (11th), Bourbonic (13th) and Dynamic One (18th) 

Will Todd Pletcher have a horse in the Preakness?

Pletcher is winless with nine starters over seven runnings of the Preakness. His best finish was Impeachment (third in 2000). This year, he’s going with new shooter Unbridled Honor. Jockey Luis Saez will get the call. Unbridled Honor has one win from five starts. He finished fourth in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March and, most recently, was second to King Fury in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes on April 10 at Keeneland.

The Preakness field likely won’t exceed 10. Is that typical?

Trainer Chad Brown said Wednesday that while he is definitely planning to run Crowded Trade in the Preakness, he hasn’t ruled out also running Risk Taking. That would bring the field of likely Preakness entrants to 10. (The Kentucky Derby ran 19 horses).

Brown said Risk Taking is entered in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on Saturday, May 8, at Belmont but that he might instead wait for the Preakness. Risk Taking won the Grade 3 Withers in February but was seventh as the favorite in the Wood Memorial.

A field of 10 is about the average size over the past five runnings of the Preakness. In 2019, there were 13 entries, and in 2018, just eight got in the gate.

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