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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.

Preakness Thoughts....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What do you do at the racetrack if you love a horse in the last race, but a good friend is alive for a monster score in the Pick-6, and his ticket does not include your selection? I know what I do...I bet my horse, and if I lose, I root like hell for my friend to win. However, if I don't have a strong opinion on the race, I don't bet...and I root like hell for my friend. Well, I have two roots in this year's Preakness. I work for NYRA, and at NYRA we root for one horse, in one race, every year. We root for the KY Derby to win the Preakness for the very obvious reasons. But I'm also rooting for Dialed In. Not that long ago, Magna announced a bonus for horses winning a combination of races in either California or Florida. Because Dialed In won both the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby, he became eligible to win that bonus, which would be $5 million to Dialed In's owner Bob LaPenta and $500,000 to his trainer Nick Zito, if Dialed In wins the Preakness. Given that Nick is a good friend of mine, I will root for him ( assuming the horse racing for those that sign my checks, that would be Animal Kingdom, doesn't win ). However, the question still remains as to whether or not I have an opinion strong enough to bet against either of these two enormous roots.
In the absence of any major reason to want to wager on any in this year's Preakness, let's start by discussing the horses I don't like, and why. Starting from the rail out, there's Astrology, a horse that has always generated a reasonable amount of buzz, and frankly, I'm not sure why. He's OK, but nothing he has done on the racetrack indicates he will be particularly successful in this Preakness. In a way, he feels like he's always running in a race without having performed in a prerequisite prep. Norman Asbjornson seems overmatched. King Congie is a nice turf horse, but has not run well on the dirt, and feels misplaced. Flashpoint is a sprinter, whose connections seem determined to run him in the wrong spots, when there are plenty of " right " spots available. He is a very talented horse but seems highly unlikely to be successful at longer distances, especially against top company. He will, however, guarantee an honest pace, and perhaps compromise the chances of Shackleford, while possibly helping some others. Midnight Interlude was dreadful in the Derby, backing up after sitting in a comfortable spot, and needs to show a LOT more before he can be considered a legitimate contender. Running down Comma at the Top at 1 1/8 in the Santa Anita Derby is no longer seeming like a particularly strong accomlishment. Isn't He Perfect and Concealed Identity both seem overmatched.
Now that I have eliminated half the field, let's take a quick look at the charms of the remaining entrants. I left Mr. Commons in, not because I am a big fan, but because it seems possible the rail wasn't the best place to be in the stretch of the Santa Anita Derby. The problem is, there is nothing else to recommend about him, and he may only seem possible because having raced in only four races, we have yet to determine conclusively that he doesn't belong. He would be, at best, a very fringe player, say third or fourth in supers, for me. Shackleford has certainly run OK in his last two, but after setting a quick pace in the Florida Derby, he got away with a more tepid one in Kentucky, and that does not rate to happen in the Preakness. With Flashpoint, and even some others I will get to, this pace should be hotter, and Shackleford has yet to show an ability to rate comfortably off a faster pace. While I consider him a possible winner, for those reasons I wouldn't bet him. I can understand the appeal of Sway Away, he ran a visually impressive, and fast, race three back, had a seemingly fair excuse two back, and made a premature wide move into a hot pace in the Arkansas Derby. My problem is that I think Dance City ran better than him at Oaklawn, and ultimately I believe Sway Away is more of a sprinter. However, he does seem like one of the few that might be able to win this race, and I would use him as a C type in Pick-4s or the like. Dance City does seem like a major player. He has come around quickly for Todd Pletcher, and ran well in the teeth of the Arkansas Derby pace, after being used hard early to keep The Factor at bay. The biggest question with him may be whether or not a son of City Zip can ultimately be successful at the Preakness distance, but given his performances so far at 1 1/8 miles, it doesn't seem out of the question. He seems like the likeliest upsetter to me. Mucho Macho Man is obviously a player, and I will include him in multi-race tickets as insurance, but ultimately I'm not convinced he will beat these horses without a comfortable trip on a modest pace, something that won't happen here. He simply hasn't shown the quickness to pounce and win races against better than decent fields. Unless you feel for some reason that Animal Kingdom will be a complete no-show, I don't see why he should win this weekend. He's OK, but not a horse that I expect to win unless all the others fail to run their best races. Which leads us to Dialed In. The $6.1 million question ( I've included the Preakness purse ) is whether or not he was really simply too far off what was a moderate pace in the KY Derby ( personally I think it was relatively fair....but not super fast like most KY Derby paces ) to do his best running or is he ultimately just not good enough, and more of a talented closer best suited to one mile races. His Holy Bull win was impressive. It was a fair to moderate pace, and yet he made a huge run, in just his second career start, to win rather impressively. His Florida Derby, however, while visually impressive, may well have been the result of a fast pace where nobody save Shackleford ran a step. However, given the likely fast pace of this Preakness, and the distance questions which surround many of the other contenders, a fair case can be made that Dialed In is the second likeliest winner of this race. Perhaps it is simply a case of him proving enough so far to suggest he deserves one more chance after the KY Derby. But, is this enough for me to bet him in the 9:2 range? No, it isn't. I will root for my friend, use him in the Pick-4 as an A, but I can't pick him on top. He simply has too many questions to answer to make him worth a play at his expected odds. Which leaves us with the KY Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom is, based on his KY Derby, the best horse in this race, and unquestionably the likeliest winner. However, off the rest of his races, he is nowhere close to that. Thus you have to ask yourself if this seemingly turf-bred horse is ultimately a dirt horse, that was hampered by the surfaces he raced on prior to May 7th, or if his Derby was a one race fluke. Frankly, that cannot be answered until late on Saturday. My gut feeling, however, is that he is a dirt horse. He ran so smoothly, and easily, in the KY Derby that I have no concrete reason to question him going forward. It was not hard to believe going into the Derby that one horse could easily separate himself from this bunch, as the overall talent level was not high for a race of this magnitude, and Animal Kingdom has did just that. Going forward, I will hardly be surprised when he continues to show his dominance. He is, sorry to say from an odds standpoint, my pick to win this Preakness. My Preakness picks are Animal Kingdom - Dance City - Dialed In - Mr. Commons. From a betting standpoint I will use mostly the top three in multi-race bets, and in just the Preakness I will fool around with Dance City, and try to make money with him if he finishes in any of the first three slots. My root from a betting and loyalty standpoint may very well be intertwined.

Comments :

  • Ted Katsamakis | May 31 2011 10:47 AM

    Met Mile thoughts Andy; Was Tizway that much better or was it a 'weak" field? Visually impressive victory with 26-1 only horse closing? Bizarre afterthought? Can't gauge the race because no real good "west coast" horse made trip? Thanks for any input.

    report this comment
  • Arlene Baker | May 30 2011 08:20 AM

    I think you are spot on Andy. However, I will add Shackleford, just because.

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