Preakness Day is here…

Of the three Triple Crown races, it’s widely held that the Preakness undercard is the least stellar.  That being said, a competitive slate of stakes races has been assembled and the two guaranteed Pick 4 sequences look like they could easily yield healthy payoffs.  Let’s take a look at each of the stakes races plus the Preakness:

WILLIAM DONALD SCHAEFER:

The pace situation is a tad murky in this event as its quite conceivable that #1 CAVE’S VALLEY can get clear of this field.  He tracked the pace last time out at Belmont and tired late but the early splits in the optional claimer were very strong, so his late fade is quite understandable.  From a trip standpoint, he had it much worse than #2 REAL MERCHANT, who laid back and made one run.  The best trip in here may be enjoyed by #7 NO ADVANTAGE, who is exiting the Charles Town Classic.  He was no factor that evening despite making multiple moves at the lead.  He has enough speed to sit just off the leaders and could get the jump on the favorites, who all happen to be closers.
THE PICKS: 7-3-1

GALLORETTE:

#2 ALL IS VANITY didn’t really have an excuse last time out as she sat a nice trip behind the hot pace, cut the corner, had dead aim in the final furlong but faltered late.  She comes for her 2nd off the mid-range layoff and lands in a race that is woefully short on speed.  The projected favorite will be on the engine herself, but it’s doubtful she can get the lead going this distance.  Look for All is Vanity to control this race from start to finish.  #4 VIVA LA FLAG is worthy of a look as she is being moved up in class for this, her 2nd start off a layoff.  Trainer Shug McGaughey is a prudent horseman who rarely enters his a horse where they don’t fit, so this gal must be giving him every indication she’s ready for graded stakes company.
THE PICKS: 2-8-4

HIRSCH JACOBS:

#7 NUCLEAR WAYNE is an upstart 3YO who clearly developed a bit later than the best of his generation.  He’s been off since mid-January when he handled a MSW field at Fair Grounds in fine fashion.  The biggest asset this guy has is his ability to stalk the pace as it is quite clear that the early tempo in here will be very, very hot.  Look for this guy to employ stalk and pounce tactics under Robby Albarado.  #3 NOT FOR SILVER has every right to rebound off a lackluster effort in the Bay Shore on Wood Memorial day.  He was no factor that day in what amounted to the worst race of his career.  He should move forward today off of that poor race because he will also benefit from the pace situation.
THE PICKS: 7-3-1

WOODLAWN:

I’m beginning to get the feeling that after this race is run I’m going to wonder why I helped #8 AFFIRMATIF in the Pick 4.  While his accomplishments on the turf are far from vast, he simply towers over this bunch on paper.  After a scintillating debut win he came back in a N1X at Keeneland and finished a game 2nd as a heavy 2/5 favorite.  He tracked a fast pace that day and couldn’t match an impressive winner but still ran a very strong race.  #5 COLONEL RUTLEDGE looks like the only other horse you can give a chance as he goes 2nd off a 180+ day layoff for trainer Graham Motion.  He is back on the turf, which is the surface over which he began his career.  He still has to prove himself around two turns, but at least he’s shown he can rally from off the pace.
THE PICKS: 8-5-4

MARYLAND SPRINT HANDICAP:

#1 WEST COAST FLIER is going 2nd off a short layoff for the exact same connections that scored in this race a year ago with Starforaday.  This guy exits a 3rd place finish in the Vincent Moscarelli at Delaware, a race from which the 1-2 finishers scored in their next outing.  He has a versatile running style thus it really wouldn’t be a surprise if he finds himself very close to the early pace from the rail.  #8 RAVALO exits a 4th place finish in the Commonwealth (G2) at Keeneland where he set the pace off the rail and tired late.  That was his first start in nearly three months, so there’s reason to think he’ll move forward today.  He is the fastest horse early in this event and that should have him in a good position when they turn for home.
THE PICKS: 1-8-7

DIXIE:

#3 PARADING is exiting a career best effort in the Ben Ali as he made a bold move going into the backstretch and gradually drew clear to win by over seven lengths.  He earned a Beyer figure of 103 for that effort and now goes 3rd off a 180+ day layoff.  He lands in another spot where the pace scenario will work in his favor as there is very little early speed signed up.  #7 WESLEY exits the best effort of his career as everything finally went his way en route to winning the Miami Mile.  He is very dangerous now that things have seemingly been straightened out for this well-bred son of El Prado.  Expect him to be in the mix in the stretch drive.
THE PICKS: 3-7-4

PREAKNESS:

It’s tough to take less than 2-1 on a filly facing males for the first time, at a distance farther than she’s ever gone, in a race that she was initially avoiding.  It does seem, however, that #13 RACHEL ALEXANDRA may be just the monster to alleviate all of those concerns.  She has won so effortlessly in her four starts this year as jockey Calvin Borel has hardly asked her to run.  Her outside post today won’t hurt as it should allow her to enjoy a good stalking trip from just outside the leaders.  #1 BIG DRAMA seems poised to give a good account of himself against top level competition around two turns.  He has made only one start in 2009 as he “won” the Swale before being disqualified and placed 2nd.  He now returns off a brief freshening but has a very active worktab for an underrated trainer.  The rail draw will force jockey John Velazquez’s hand today but he can certainly stay within range from start to finish.  #5 FRIESAN FIRE’s Derby effort was too bad to be believed as he did no running and beat only one horse home.  A variety of things supposedly went wrong that afternoon, including a slow break from the gate.  He will improve with a better trip and his fast workout on Tuesday makes it clear he’s ready to rebound.
THE PICKS: 1-5-13

Good luck with the Preakness and all of the undercard stakes.  I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the big day and potentially talk about a Triple Crown bid coming in three weeks or maybe racing’s newest darling, a strapping filly, or an upsetter who surprised all!

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