Las Vegas, NV -- I have been betting the ponies since I was 11 years old and from that time, one of the main things I've heard from the many handicappers at numerous racetracks and off track betting places that I have been, is that "pace makes the race." The 136th running of The Preakness Stakes could end up being a perfect example of that old adage.
The key in handicapping this race is the speed. Will Flashpoint, Dance City and Shackleford get into a heated pace duel up front or will they leave one of the speed horses alone on the front end? If we only knew how this race was going to develop in the early going then and only then would we have a good idea of the outcome -- but we don't, so we will just need to make an educated guess.
As I look over past performances, there is only one way for these three to go and that is on or near the pace. Shackleford has proven he can sit in second and pounce early; Dance City needs to be right there as does Flashpoint, who looks to have only one way to go.
So can anyone beat Animal Kingdom in The Preakness?
You just may see more early speed this time from the Bob Baffert trained Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, who really never ran a step in the Kentucky Derby. New shooter Mr. Commons also may be eager to run as he has shown good early stalking speed in the past.
If all the speed gets out and the track is playing fair, you will see the closers making their big late runs -- but if a horse like Shackleford gets the jump turning for home, he could hold this time around. His trainer Dale Romans has stated that he thought his horse was home free in the Kentucky Derby when he opened up in the stretch, but when Animal Kingdom came home in what was the second fastest last half mile in Kentucky Derby history -- behind the great Secretariat -- the race was over. But "The Shak" held well to be a clear fourth behind the fast closing Master of Hounds who Gomez had all over the course.
This was Animal Kingdom's first race on conventional dirt and some say he freaked. Despite finishing so fast, he was a little green in the deep stretch, drifting in then out but no one was gaining on him except Master of Hounds and he will not be in this race.
So can anyone beat Animal Kingdom in The Preakness? The pace is the answer and a horse by the forgotten name Dialed In will go better with a much needed race under his belt. But if Animal Kingdom can run as fast as he did in the Kentucky Derby, someone will really need to jump up and run a career best or find a sloppy track and freak out and that has happened in the past at Pimlico. So keep an eye out for the rain, as speed in the past has been a high percentage play in the Preakness.
The bottom line is that it will be pace, the weather or possible greatness right in front of our eyes -- and a much needed super horse heading to Belmont Park on Saturday, June 11th.