by Jim Freer
16 May ’14
(Note – This will be the first of our stories on Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, with much of the focus on horses that have raced at Gulfstream Park and on other Florida-related topics.)
On Saturday morning, we will have our Preakness predictions as we monitor Pimlico while at Gulfstream Park).
First, some thoughts on this year’s Preakness: How the race shapes up, and what it might have been like if several top horses from Gulfstream Park had avoided injury and made it into the Triple Crown races.
The ten-horse Preakness field has four horses that ran at Gulfstream this year. The lightly raced Social Inclusion, speedy and with a distance pedigree, will be the second betting choice behind Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. Social Inclusion finished third in his stakes debut, the Wood Memorial (Grade 1) at Aqueduct on April 5. He led until around the sixteenth pole and wound up 3 lengths behind Wicked Strong and a nose behind Samraat. Wicked Strong edged Samraat by a nose for fourth place in the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby, both flattering Social Inclusion’s Wood effort. Social Inclusion has post eight in the 1-3/16 mile Preakness, outside most of the other speed, and will be ridden by his regular jockey Luis Contreras.
Social Inclusion missed the Sir Bear Stakes at Gulfstream on May 3 because of a bone bruise in his right hind foot. But trainer Manny Azpurua said the colt is past that problem. This past Monday he had an ultra-fast 47.00 seconds workout for four furlongs at Pimlico. One widely-held scenario has Social Inclusion taking the lead around the final turn, with California Chrome on the move right behind him – setting up a potentially thrilling finish. General a Rod was a Gulfstream star. In three stakes races, he had a win, a second place finish and a third place finish. General a Rod finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby, after being forced to steady several times. He will be stalking the pace under Javier Castellano. Ring Weekend broke his maiden at Gulfstream, and later won the Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2). Pablo Del Monte finished third and fourth in a pair of stakes at Gulfstream and third in the Blue Grass (Grade 1) at Keeneland. Ring Weekend and Pablo Del Monte both have early speed and likely will be part of a fast Preakness pace that sets up this scenario: It will be California Chrome’s race to lose and Social Inclusion’s race to win. Or it could turn into late-running Ride on Curlin’s big chance to finally pick up all of the pieces in a major stakes. It poured in Baltimore this morning and more rain is expected this afternoon. If the track is still wet on Saturday, past performances and breeding indicate that Ride on Curlin might be the horse with the most to benefit.
To win the Preakness, any of the other entrants will probably need a breakout race or a rebound to past form (e.g. General a Rod), combined with a sub-par race by California Chrome. Put all of that together, and you can understand why there is a view that California Chrome didn’t beat much in the Kentucky Derby. and he is the best of a mediocre bunch.
Instead, we support this overview: California Chrome has developed and peaked at the right time, and his best may still be yet to come. Critics point to California Chrome’s slow wining time of 2:03.66 and low (for the Kentucky Derby) Beyer Speed Figure of 97. The horse’s backers point out that jockey Victor Espinoza allowed California Chrome to de-celerate in the final yards, in effect leaving gas in the tank for Pimlico. He won by 1-3/4 lengths over Commanding Curve who was still running strong after passing tiring horses. California Chrome’s times in winning two Santa Anita stakes indicate he could have run faster if needed at Churchill Downs. He didn’t need to because more than a half dozen of this year’s top 2-year-olds are injured and were not in the Kentucky Derby.
Among this year’s Gulfstream contingent now sidelined are: Constitution, winner of the Florida Derby (Grade 1); Cairo Prince, winner of the Holy Bull (Grade 2); Honor Code, winner of last year’s Remsen (Grade 2) at Aqueduct; and Top Billing, an early season star who has a late-running style. Several of those horses should be back for this summer stakes at tracks such as Monmouth Park and Saratoga. So should Wildcat Red, the winner of this year’s Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) at Gulfstream. Wildcat Red finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby after some heavy bumping early in the race, and came away with a cut on one leg and bruises on two other legs. Wildcat Red is healing quickly, said his trainer Jose Garoffalo who is giving the Gulfstream-based colt a break from training for several weeks.