Over the past four years, the best horse entering the Kentucky Derby – and the most popular at the windows – prevailed with relative ease as chalk bettors reveled in easy scores. As Nyquist showed once again this year, maybe you don’t need luck to triumph in a 20-horse field full of developing 3-year-old colts; maybe being the best is simply good enough.
I got mint juleped at the betting windows on Derby Day, as my strong desire to beat Nyquist left me with nothing but free drinks and a bunch of crumpled-up tickets in a tiny casino in Mesquite, Nev. Brody’s Cause couldn’t hang with the big boys that day but showed me enough that I might be willing to give him another chance in the longer Belmont in three weeks.
I’m back home now, refreshed, refocused and ready to find the long shot that’ll put Nyquist’s Triple Crown bid on ice. (Hey, it’s not supposed to be easy. Let’s wait a few years before the next one, OK?)
The forecast for Baltimore on Saturday is grim, with cool temperatures and rain expected. It’ll be sloppy, and the jockeys will go through goggles like the infield crowd will go through kegs. What a party it is at Pimlico.
With just three horses running back from the Derby, and eight new faces making up the field of 11, let’s get to know who they are:
▪ 1. Cherry Wine (jockey: Lanerie; trainer: Romans), 20-1: This horse was a head away from being in the Derby, as it missed getting the necessary qualifying points when it missed out on second place in the Blue Grass Stakes at the wire. I’ve taken a great liking to this one as I’ve dissected this race. There’s quite a bit of speed in this field, and I think the fractions will be quick enough where a deep closer can make a winning move. A gray day calls for a gray winner, and this beauty romped to victory in the slop in its only wet-track try. Class test but belongs in this field. Big shot.
▪ 2. Uncle Lino (Perez; Sherlock), 20-1: California shipper has nibbled around with decent efforts but hasn’t been able to run with the top 3-year-olds. Will be part of the pace and think he’ll be near the rear late.
▪ 3. Nyquist (Gutierrez; O’Neill), 3-5: This colt is the real deal, and if he maintains his mojo over the two-week break after the Derby, he’ll be very tough to beat. Got a dream trip in the Derby, but not sure what he’ll get here with a race filled with front-running types. His Breeders’ Cup juvenile win was from well off the pace, so that part of his game is there. Only true knock is the price.
▪ 4. Awesome Speed (Toledo; Goldberg), 30-1: This one is 3 for 3 in Maryland but, unfortunately, those races came at Laurel Park and not Pimlico. Decent colt but appears too slow to contend here.
▪ 5. Exaggerator (Kent Desormeaux; Keith Desormeaux), 3-1: I’ve never been aboard this train so not going to jump on now. Relishes sloppy conditions, and there’s no denying he’s talented and has a big shot here. I’m a bit concerned, though, as this is his fifth race in three months. Highly doubt you’ll get 3-1 here, but that’s a pretty good price and would advise those in his corner to jump on that if you can get it.
▪ 6. Lani (Take; Matsunaga), 30-1: The only colt outside of the big two to run back after a ninth-place effort in Kentucky. This feisty one’s an enigma to me, and I’ll be staying away.
▪ 7. Collected (Castellano; Baffert), 10-1: This versatile colt appears dangerous and could get a beautiful trip Saturday. Has won sprinting, routing, on turf and on dirt. Has won on the lead but also has shown he can stalk a swift pace and finish. Coming off two consecutive wins, could this one turn out to be Bob Baffert’s best 3-year-old this spring? Enters with three scorching works since his latest triumph and gets the best pilot in the country. Lots to like here.
▪ 8. Laoban (Geroux, Guillot), 30-1: A tall task faces this maiden. He’s usually quickest out of the gate but is shedding blinkers, so we’ll see what that change does to his running style. Hasn’t been embarrassed against the top competition, but it’d be a shock to see this one crack the top three. Maybe use for fourth to spice up a potential superfecta.
▪ 9. Abiding Star (Acosta; Allard), 30-1: We know The Dude abides, but not sure this Star will abide its backers by producing a winning effort in this spot. Will be a big pace presence, that much is for sure. What’s interesting is this one is the fourth horse in this field with the same sire (Uncle Mo), joining Nyquist, Uncle Lino and Laoban.
▪ 10. Fellowship (Lezcano; Casse), 30-1: Wheels back in two weeks after a fourth-place finish in one of the Derby undercard races. Connections are strong but a trifecta play at best.
▪ 11. Stradivari (Velazquez; Pletcher), 8-1: The most lightly raced horse in the field with just three career starts. Past two victories were by a combined 25-plus lengths, so the hype is strong with this one. I tend to shy away from horses like this in such a tough spot so will be tossing – not for me.
The plays – Nyquist is a baller, no doubt, but let’s see if we can get two of these fresh, developing horses to take a big step forward. These plays are for the minimum, so bump up the increments if you’ve already paid the mortgage for June.
▪ Upset specials ($18 play): $2 win/place, $5 show on No. 7 Collected; $2 win/place, $5 show on No. 1 Cherry Wine.
▪ Exacta fever ($6 play): $1 exacta box, using No. 1 Cherry Wine, No. 3 Nyquist, No. 7 Collected
▪ Trifecta treat ($30 play): $.50 cent trifecta box (1-3-5-7-10)
▪ Dimer dandy ($38.40 play): $.10 cent superfecta (1-3-5-7 over 1-3-5-7 over 1-3-5-7-8-10 over ALL)
▪ Mrs. Exacta Kenny’s cheap thrill ($2 play): $2 show on No. 6 Lani (hey, my girl loves show bets and LOVES LANI)
Best of luck and see you for the Belmont!
Think Exacta Kenny should stop making picks and muck stalls? Let him know at email@example.com.
141st Preakness Stakes
Venue: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore
Post time: 3:45 p.m. Saturday (Race 13 of 14)
Distance: 1 3/16 miles