Astrology Tops New Shooters


Had his connections wanted to push the envelope, Astrology could have run in this year’s Kentucky Derby. He had sufficient graded stakes earnings, was a stakes winner over the Churchill Downs main track, and ran creditably in his one and only race of his 3-year-old season.

But there was the rub. With only one race in nearly six months, Astrology would most likely have been ill-prepared to run 1 1/4 miles against 19 other horses on the first Saturday in May. So, his connections cured any case of Derby Fever they might have had and made Saturday’s Preakness their major objective of the spring.

Coming off a better-than-it-looks-on-paper second in the Grade 2 Jerome at Aqueduct on April 23, Astrology just may be the horse that can derail Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom’s Triple Crown bid in Saturday’s $1 million Preakness at Pimlico.

Astrology is one of nine horses in the 14-horse Preakness field that did not run in the Kentucky Derby. Three times since 2000 a non-Derby starter has won the Preakness, the last being Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Astrology, like Rachel Alexandra, is trained by Steve Asmussen, who also won this race in 2007 with Derby third-place finisher Curlin.

“He shows up in a lot of the players’ form, he’s kept a high level of competition,” Asmussen said of Astrology. “His not being in the Derby is more surprising than his being in the Preakness.”

Astrology, a son of A.P. Indy owned by George Bolton and the Stonestreet Stables of the late Jess Jackson, missed some time this winter due to illness upon arriving in Southern California. He did not make his 3-year-old debut until the Sunland Derby on March 27, when he appeared to tire in the final furlong, finishing second behind longshot winner Twice the Appeal, who came back to run 10th in the Kentucky Derby.

In the Jerome, run over a sloppy Aqueduct track, Astrology hit his head against the gate, causing it to open before the official start of the race. After racing close up early on, Astrology appeared to be fading in the stretch only to re-rally and finish second to Adios Charlie, who came back to suffer a narrow defeat to Alternation in last weekend’s Peter Pan at Belmont.

“It’s the kind of race where I look forward to the next one,” jockey Mike Smith said of Astrology’s Jerome effort.

Asmussen said: “The Jerome was an ideal second start and felt like it was a bridge from where we were to where I wanted to be.”

Here is a look at eight other Preakness new shooters:

Sway Away: Though his only win came going five furlongs 11 months ago at Pleasanton, this son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex has a chance to be a major factor Saturday. Had Uncle Mo not entered the Kentucky Derby – or had there been an also-eligible list – he would have run in the Derby.

He finished a solid second to The Factor in the San Vicente at Santa Anita and ran fourth after making an early move to the lead in the Arkansas Derby. That race was his first with blinkers, which were suggested by jockey Garrett Gomez following the Rebel Stakes. Gomez, who did not ride Sway Away in the Arkansas Derby, will be back aboard Saturday.

Believing that Sway Away made a premature move under Pat Valenzuela in the Arkansas Derby, Bonde will cut back the blinkers on Sway Away on Saturday.

“He’s been playing catch-up,” Bonde said. “He’s a big talent. One day he’ll put it all together. He could be like a Gate Dancer who took a while to get all the bugs worked out. I think my horse will have an impact on Saturday.”

Dance City: This son of City Zip held on to be third to Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby after chasing the hot early pace and figures to be on or near the lead in the Preakness. Dance City, trained by Todd Pletcher, missed some time during the winter due to illness, then couldn’t find a race to fill until March 19, when he ran against and defeated stablemate Cal Nation.

Pletcher is confident Dance City can get the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness and wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the lead, depending what Flashpoint and Shackleford do.

“It’s going to depend on the fractions,” Pletcher said. “Shackleford wasn’t going that fast in the Kentucky Derby, and Flashpoint I was surprised couldn’t make the lead in the Florida Derby, so I don’t know what to expect from those two. We’ll let him run his race and not be too caught up in where he is as long as the fractions are sensible.”

Dance City can be a bit temperamental at the gate, which is why Pletcher will ask the stewards if this horse could be loaded first.

Ramon Dominguez, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning rider, has the call.

Flashpoint: Impressive winning his first two starts sprinting, this son of Pomeroy could do no better than fourth in the Florida Derby in his first start around two turns. Owner John Fort has transferred the horse to Wesley Ward from Richard Dutrow Jr., and the colt has been training sensationally over the Polytrack at Keeneland.

Ward has been training him in company with Pleasant Prince – who finished 11th in last year’s Preakness. Ward is hopeful that Flashpoint’s demeanor will help him overcome his sprint-oriented pedigree as he attempts 1 3/16 miles for the first time.

“He’s got a beautiful mind, you wouldn’t think that the distance would be a problem in his demeanor,” Ward said. “Now his pedigree would say otherwise, but I just think that the way this horse trains in the morning he’s very easy to manage.”

Cornelio Velasquez will ride Flashpoint.

Mr. Commons: Finished third in Santa Anita Derby behind Kentucky Derby also-rans Midnight Interlude and Comma to the Top. The rail opened up like the Red Sea turning for home in the Santa Anita Derby, but Mr. Commons was not quite up to the task in the stretch.

With regular rider Smith opting to ride Astrology, Victor Espinoza picks up the mount on Mr. Commons, who is trained by John Shirreffs.

by David Grening


Ask 100 racetrackers which classic they would rather win, the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes, and 99 will say the Derby.

But when it comes to crowning champions, tomorrow's second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico is a much more pivotal race than the first at Churchill Downs.

Each of the past 10 Preakness winners, and 13 of the past 14, was named the 3-year-old champ (including the filly Rachel Alexandra), though just seven of them won the Derby. Four of those Preakness champions were Horse of the Year.

The conclusion is obvious: Though the result of the Derby can leave you scratching your head in wonder, the Preakness is almost always won by the best horse.

"We're sorting things out a bit more [by the Preakness]," said legendary horseman D. Wayne Lukas, who owns five Preakness trophies. "You had the preps for the Derby and then the Derby, and the pretenders fall by the wayside by the time we get here. Now we're at the point where you are getting the cream of the crop."

Retired Hall-of-Fame jockey Gary Stevens, now an analyst for NBC, won the Derby three times and the Preakness twice.

"A lot of the difference [between the two races] is with 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby, there are a lot of bad trips and very few good trips," Stevens said. "Whereas the Preakness with 14 horses, it's a lot easier to maneuver around.

"The atmosphere is a lot different. Everybody is more settled in at this point, and you get better trips. The Preakness is always won by a legitimate horse."

There's an old saying in racing: If you didn't attend the wedding, don't go to the funeral -- meaning that if you did not play a horse when he won at long odds, don't bet him back at a short price.

Some will apply that wisdom to Animal Kingdom, who won the Derby at 20-1 and will go off the favorite tomorrow at 2-1 or less. But Animal Kingdom's long odds in Kentucky had more to do with the perception that he was a turf/Polytrack specialist trying dirt for the first time, rather than any lack of talent.

"The Derby winner is always the horse to beat here," said Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert, whose five Preakness winners included three that won the Derby. "Usually this is the easiest leg [of the Triple Crown]. When a horse wins the Derby, he's in the zone. He's peaking."

Lukas concurred: "There are some horses coming around that could upset things a little, but the Derby winner looked good. And a lot of times when you get one horse that's really on his game, the rest of them -- I hate to use the word mediocre -- but it looks like parity has set in."

Stevens is another Animal Kingdom fan.

"I loved his performance [in the Derby]," he said. "The part I liked about it most is he really only ran an eighth of a mile. Just going into the far turn, it looked like Johnny [Velazquez, his jockey] tested him a bit, and he actually had to tap on the brakes, like, 'Whoa, I'm loaded here.'

"It's hard to not pull the trigger at the head of the stretch in the Kentucky Derby, no matter how much horse you have. But Johnny sat, and he waited and waited. He was so patient, I don't think he cooked him.

"My three Derby winners, I knew they'd been in a horse race. They were tired. I've seen a lot of horses in the winner's circle that looked spent already. But Animal Kingdom looked like, 'Bring on some more, let's go do it again.'

by Ed Fountaine


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