Going into the Kentucky Derby, who knew that War Emblem would get away with moderate fractional splits while every jockey aboard 17 rivals would be taking afternoon naps? Now, in the Preakness, most observers expect at least half the jockeys to act as if they are racing in the Indy 500.
You've seen the predictions. Booklet (No. 10 saddle number) to go for the early lead. Menacing Dennis (No. 11) to be in the mix with his early zip. Ditto for recent sprint winner Table Limit (No. 9) and Proud Citizen (No. 12), who chased War Emblem around the track at Churchill Downs two weeks ago.
Even Medaglia d'Oro (No. 5), a troubled fourth in the Derby, and Harlan's Holiday (No. 6), who finished seventh as the Derby favorite, are going to be much closer to the early Preakness pace, if you believe their respective trainers.
Do we believe it? Do we think War Emblem (No. 8) is doomed to be cooked in a red-hot pace? Is the Preakness pace scenario going to set things up for Harlan's Holiday and/or Medaglia d'Oro? Yes and no.
Yes, the pace will be quicker and War Emblem will have to prove his mettle under tougher circumstances, which may include a rain-soaked track. But even so, I have my doubts that Harlan's Holiday can take advantage. He trained so weakly for the Derby and ran such a flat race.
On the other hand, Medaglia d'Oro was pinched at the start in the Derby and did well to finish fourth after getting sandwiched between horses in the stretch. If he can still fire a top effort in his third hard race in five weeks, he certainly can win this.
Proud Citizen is eligible for improvement after chasing War Emblem two weeks ago, only to lose ground in the stretch. But a close look at this colt's past performances reveals that he hasn't passed a single horse in his life.
Of the new shooters in the Preakness, long-shot USS Tinosa (No. 1) may have the best upset chance.
A bona fide stretch runner, USS Tinosa finished second to Medaglia d'Oro in the San Felipe Stakes and was a troubled fifth in the Santa Anita Derby. In the interim, he has trained in spectacular fashion.
In fact, Jerry Hollendorfer, the outstanding West Coast trainer, shipped him to Louisville a few days before the Kentucky Derby, even though Hollendorfer knew his colt would be excluded from the race due to the earnings rule.
USS Tinosa is not excluded from this race and has the right running style to benefit from any serious pace battle.
While tempted to select USS Tinosa at about 10-1, I remain impressed by War Emblem's strong effort in Louisville and Medaglia d'Oro's good overall form. Not only did War Emblem finish faster than any horse in the Derby, he galloped out powerfully past the finish line.
Can War Emblem survive a red-hot pace duel? No, but he will break from the gate inside all the other speed horses, which could give him control of the rail and a strong forward position without much effort heading into the first turn. Rain or shine, War Emblem just might outrun these horses after setting or pursuing swift, but not insanely fast fractions.
Medaglia d'Oro is the obvious one to fear from close range. USS Tinosa rates an upset chance, while lightly raced stretch runner Crimson Hero (No. 4) and steady Easyfromthegitgo (No. 7), will go on the bottom of my trifectas.
Here is my hypothetical $100 Preakness wager:
$40 win on No. 8 ($40).
$5 exacta box: 1,5,8 ($30).
$3 exactas: 8 and 5 over 1,5,8 ($12).
$1 trifecta: 1,5,8 on win level; with 1,5,8 in the second position; with 1,4,5,7,8 in the third position ($18).
Steve Davidowitz is author of Betting Thoroughbreds and editor of the American Racing Manual-2002.