Is Preakness a two-horse race?

There’s no bigger race to win for a horse than the Kentucky Derby, and only one horse each year that can claim that win. This year it was I’ll Have Another in a mild upset. He settled off the torrid pace, but out of trouble behind the lead speed.

Mario Gutierrez is incredibly raw so it was easy to expect little from the jockey, but he was the biggest surprise on the day. He masterfully swung his horse out after a mile, sense the pace perfectly, tracked down Bodemeister in the deep stretch, and pulled away to win by almost two lengths.

It was a far more mature, professional race than you would have expected from horse or rider. It was certainly not a fluke.

Career highlights

The colt broke his maiden in his first try last July, and then he was second behind Creative Cause in the Best Pal at Del Mar a month later. He next went to Saratoga to run in the Hopeful against top East Coast runners. That was likely as a prelude to a Breeders’ Cup appearance, but the race was a disappointing sixth and he took the rest of the fall off.

When he returned in February in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita he was a forgotten horse who went off at 43-1. He won that one impressively, though, and moved into the elite picture on the West Coast.

He didn’t have enough earnings to make the Derby, but his connections took a risk and held him out of action until the Santa Anita Derby. He basically needed to win to get a ticket to Kentucky.

And win he did.

He eked out a nose win over a very game Creative Cause. Even with that win, though, he still wasn’t seen as the top West Coast horse heading into the Derby — or even the top horse out of the Santa Anita Derby.

Jockey: Mario Gutierrez

This is a story right out of a Disney movie.

Gutierrez is a 25-year-old Mexican who had been riding in the minor leagues at Hastings Park in Vancouver. In the offseason of that circuit he had tried his luck on the Southern California circuit.

Things had not gone well, though, and he was about to go back to Vancouver. He was working horses one morning when owner Paul Reddam saw him and decided to give him the mount in the Robert Lewis because the top riders were on horses seen to have a better chance.

Gutierrez won, was promised the Santa Anita Derby mount, and decided to stay in California.

He had won just 14 races all year before the Kentucky Derby and should have been totally overwhelmed by the experience. He rode the race as well as any guy could have, though, and now he’s a Kentucky Derby champion who should have much fewer issues finding good mounts in the future.

The question now is how well he will handle being the hunted man in the Preakness instead of the guy that no one was paying attention to.

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

He’s one of the true characters of the sport — a guy who is easy to cheer for.

This is his first Triple Crown victory, but not his first taste of top three year old action. He had the top two year old of 2005 — Stevie Wonderboy — but he was injured before the Derby. Square Eddie may also have been the Derby favorite if he hadn’t been injured. Great Hunter and Liquidity both ran in the 2007 Derby, but both disappointed.

O’Neill’s biggest horse was the older gelding Lava Man, who won more than a dozen graded stakes before retiring in 2010. He now works as a pony horse for O’Neill, and ponied I’ll Have Another in the post parade at the Derby.

Pedigree

His sire, Flower Alley, was not ready for the Triple Crown trail in 2005, but he matured later to win two of the biggest East Coast races of the summer in the Jim Dandy and the Travers.

He’s early in his stallion career, but I’ll Have Another is a very good start, and there are clear indications that his offspring will have strong stamina traits like he did. The Derby distance was clearly not an issue, and the Belmont should be within his capabilities if he gets there.

Running style

He won his maiden wire-to-wire, but he seems happier when settled just off the pace before making his move at the top of the stretch. That will likely be his approach in the Preakness, though he could be tested if Bodemeister decides to let it fly up front.

If I’ll Have Another is forced to chase him too soon it could be a problem. He moved to the front earlier than ideal in the Best Pal and ran out of gas late.

Prognosis

If all goes according to plans then the Preakness should be a two-horse race.

Personally I think that Bodemeister is the better horse, but this horse has proven that he is very legitimate and will be a factor as well.

He’ll be bet heavily — likely as the second choice — and deserves the attention. In my mind a win isn’t the most likely scenario, but it would be far from a shock. He’ll factor into the stretch drive for sure.

Bodemeister

Losing a race never feels good — especially one as important as the Kentucky Derby. If you are going to lose a race, though, you can’t do it any more impressively than Bodemeister did in the Kentucky Derby.

He is a speed horse, but the Derby was jammed full of speed horses. It was widely assumed that Trinniberg would set a blistering early pace before tiring out before the first mile was done. Bodemeister broke well, though, and found himself on the lead.

Jockey Mike Smith could have held back, but he knew he had the fastest horse in the race and he attempted to run away with the race. The suicidal pace killed the rest of the speed, but Bodemeister held on valiantly and looked like he was going to win it until I’ll Have Another made his last move.

To finish as well as he did in the face of early fractions like that is incredibly impressive.

Career highlights

There’s not much to talk about here because the horse hadn’t had much of a career.

It was well publicized that he was trying to win the Derby without having run at age two — something no horse has managed since 1882. He debuted in January, and broke his maiden in his second try. He wasn’t quite good enough to beat Creative Cause in the San Felipe in his stakes debut.

Next time out, though, he ran by far the most impressive race of the year so far when he ran away with the Arkansas Derby by almost 10 lengths. It was an incredible performance that was good enough to make him the post time favorite in the Derby despite his inexperience.

Jockey: Mike Smith

Smith isn’t getting any younger, and he doesn’t ride nearly as much as he used to. However, for my money there is no one better right now when the stakes are high.

He has won a record 15 Breeders’ Cup races, and has a career Triple Crown, including his most recent win in the Belmont in 2012 aboard Drosselmeyer. He is an absolute master at judging pace, and in his two races aboard Bodemeister he has clearly shown that he and the horse are well matched.

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Like Smith, Baffert is as good as there is right now in my mind. The charismatic king of California race has nine Triple Crown wins, including five in the Preakness.

His most recent win here came in 2010 with Lookin at Lucky. Baffert has been red hot recently, and has obviously done well with this horse.

He’s lucky to be here at all after surviving a major heart attack in March when he was attending the Dubai World Cup.

Pedigree

The easiest way to tell if a horse has what it takes to shine in Triple Crown races is to look for Triple Crown race winners in his pedigree. Bodemeister shines on that front.

Sire Empire Maker was a strong second in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, and then he ended Funny Cide’s Triple Crown aspirations by winning the Belmont after skipping the Preakness. Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, won the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990.

On his dam’s side he has the brilliant Storm Cat and the legendary Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy.

In short, this horse is regally bred and has no stamina concerns to go with his unreal speed.

Running style

If you watched the Derby you know what he likes — the lead. He wants to be right on or near the pace, and he likes it to be fast. There is no saving himself for later.

In the Preakness he’s the lone true speed horse, and he shouldn’t have any issue setting the pace he wants to unless a horse decides to take a real risk to throw Bodemeister off his game. That shouldn’t happen though — there isn’t a horse in this field with anything approaching the speed of Bodemeister.

At this point there isn’t a three year old who has proven he can touch his speed.

Preakness Stakes handicapping prognosis

He came out of the Derby well, the pace scenario suits him well in this one, the track suits front- running horses, and he’s the classiest horse in the field.

A lot could go wrong, but it’s never a bad idea to bet on the best horse in the field, and in my eyes Bodemeister is clearly the best. It’s his race to lose, though he will have to beat some strong horses to do so.

I’ll Have Another is obviously a threat, Creative Cause has beaten him before, and Went the Day Well is really coming into his own. There is a good chance that if Bodemeister wins he’ll do it in eye-opening, awe-inspiring fashion.

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