Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.
While I wouldn't go so far as to say that I agree with all the machinations of this past weekend involving the Preakness, I can't say that I didn't enjoy following them, as the last thing we want is racing to ever be boring....and even more so at this time of the year. I'm not going to completely argue with someone who disagrees with those who might attempt to keep horses out of the Preakness but I will say that my biggest surprise came that the plot was hatched publicly. Kind of like a guy ( or gal ) whispering loudly to his neighbor at the poker table that he's bluffing. But, all's well that ends well, and it looks like the mighty Rachel Alexandra will be taking her rightful place in the starting gate on Saturday.
It's a little early for me to try to handicap a race that hasn't even been drawn yet, but being that I will be out of town ( at the Preakness ) this week, I'll do my best. Now, being that I am looking forward to the excitement of a Triple Crown attempt in the Belmont Stakes, there is no doubt that I'm rooting for Mine That Bird. However, the question is whether or not that is anything more than a pipe dream. On the one hand you have a horse that had never run that well before, who rode the best part of the racetrack in the Derby, and also raced over a wet racetrack. All of these are factors that most sane handicappers use to toss a horse the next time it races. Luckily, however, sanity has never been one of my strongsuits. The plusses he has going for him are that in the Derby he made a devastating run from far back after having been overaggressively ridden in both of his Sunland Park races. He was easily best in the Borderland Derby, where he still earned an 81 Beyer Speed Figure, and had he received even a slightly more patient ride his number would likely have been in the mid to high 80s. In the Sunland Derby, he made another premature move, and probably should have been no worse than second. It could be argued, especially based on some subsequent performances, that the figure for that race was 5 or more points on the low side, so his final figure, with an adjustment for trip and possible overall needed adjustment, could have been a bit over 90. Neither of these figures would have made him look particularly competitive for the KY Derby, and he still would surely have been a toss for me, but they do make him look like at least a slightly more competitive racehorse. When you couple this with his new running style, you have a horse that no longer looks like a complete aberration, and one that just might be a very dangerous member of this weekend's field, rain or shine....gold rail or no gold rail.
None of the other returnees from the Derby, save perhaps Friesan Fire, particularly concerns me. While I am loathe to accept wet track performances, either positively or negatively, the second through fourth finishers all seemed to have run their races, and none of them can be reasonably expected to follow those efforts up with breakout performances this weekend. As for Friesan Fire, I suppose like a Snow Chief who flopped at short odds in the Derby only to rebound in the Preakness, perhaps he hated the track, and like the possible good horse he is, he will show up this weekend in Baltimore and prove best of a group that just might not be very strong ( don't worry, I'm not knocking Rachel Alexandra, and will get to her shortly ). However, he has never run particularly well outside of the Fair Grounds, his one big figure came in the mud, and he got very good trips in all of his races down there. While a good effort by him Saturday will not surprise me, it will come at the expense of my wagering dollars, as I am simply not a fan.
This brings us to the new shooters. First let's discuss Big Drama. Make no mistake, this is a talented horse. He ran reasonably fast races as a 2YO, winning twice at two turns, showing the ability to rate, while also having tactical speed, in both of those wins. He returned from a minor setback to beat, although he was later disqualified, a very talented This One's For Phil in the 7 furlong Swale at Gulfstream. I don't think it's a stretch to say he is the most talented colt or gelding in the Preakness. But, will he be ready to get 1 3/16ths miles in his second start of 2009, seven weeks after his last race? That's the unanswerable question, but I am taking a positive view as of now, especially given the possibility that he will be the lone speed. However, and even more importantly, will he be able to handle Rachel Alexandra?
Rachel Alexandra is a wonderful filly and perhaps the best 3YO or her sex since the mighty Go For Wand ( one of the my all-time favorites ). Each of her last four races has been better than the one preceding it, and her KY Oaks performance, albeit against no legitimate competiton, was a sight to behold. I won't argue with anyone that says had she raced the following day at Churchill instead, Mine That Bird would be the longshot that filled out a very nice exacta. Simply speaking, if she runs to her capabilities this coming Saturday, she won't lose. But, will that happen? Her former owners had planned to give her five weeks off following the KY Oaks, with the Acorn, a mile Grade 1 race on the Belmont Stakes card, being her next start. I am not a big fan of horses deviating, especially on short rest, from their schedules, especially when those deviations are in races as potentially demanding as the Preakness Stakes. Even though I am dubious that this alone will be enough to prevent her from winning, at her expected low odds, it is enough for me to take a small shot against her at the windows.
As of now, I am hoping that the big drama will ultimately be just that......a win by Big Drama. It feels like a win-win-win for me this weekend. I know this racing fan will be happy to see a filly strut her stuff in any Triple Crown race, just as like most racing fans I will be happy to see a horse set himself up for the recently elusive Triple Crown, but I'll also be very happy to collect my winning bets should Big Drama upset them all.
I can't wait.