The 136th running of the Preakness S. (G1) is in the books and there are some handicapping lessons to be learned from it.
First, the analysis that the Kentucky Derby (G1) was run on a track that favored horses that raced on the outside part of the track over those that raced on the inside part of the track held up. SHACKLEFORD (Forestry), as we pointed out last week when we gave you the entire field and how far they ran, covered 6,770 feet in the Derby, far less than Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux [Brz]) and Nehro (Mineshaft) did as both finished ahead of him.
Shackleford did have the benefit of setting a slow pace without much pressure being applied to him in the Derby, but he raced on the wrong part of the track. So, it was no surprise to some that he was able to come back and win the Preakness.
The surprise for me was that his pedigree held up as long as it did. I thought he was a beaten horse at the furlong pole but somehow he dug in and found more.
The surprise for the rest of us was that he was able to do it despite looking washed out on his way to the post. It was a warm day at Pimlico on Saturday, with the temperature in the low 80s. Throw in a big, raucous crowd and maybe it felt warmer than it was. But it was not hot and Shackleford looked like he went through a car wash before arriving at the starting gate. If you had a mutuel clerk sitting nearby in your living room, you would have started canceling tickets that had him on it. He looked that bad.
The second lesson is to stop listening to other people's accounts of who looked good in the days leading up to the race. Donna Barton-Brothers did a great job describing what she saw while on horseback in the minutes leading up to the start of the race. Her opinion that Mucho Macho Man lost weight coming out of the Derby was pertinent but not mentioned by any of the other media types that had seen him within the past two weeks.
Third, if I have a choice, I like to watch and wager here at Living Room Downs. You can't beat the high-definition picture of the race. I have to make my picks days in advance, so there are no audibles at the line of scrimmage for me, but there's nothing stopping you from waiting to the last second and making your bet.
With today's technology, available to all, you can sit there and see the horses being saddled, watch them in the post parade and then listen to Donna describe what she is seeing. With a TwinSpires account, you still have time to get a bet in even when they are loading into the gate. Believe me, I would if I could.
Animal Kingdom showed that his Derby was no fluke and that he can handle dirt and adjust to its kickback. His last half-mile was brilliant and despite coming up short, it was a big rally in a race that had a soft pace in the middle of it.
Even though the first quarter was run in :22.69, it was done with a run-up of 40 feet. Last year, the run-up was only 30 feet and the lengthier run-up contributed to the first quarter looking faster than it was. After the first quarter, when Flashpoint (Pomeroy) and Shackleford separated themselves from the other speed horses, the next half-mile was run in a pokey 49.32 seconds. When the next quarter-mile was run in :25.21, Jesus Castanon had just enough gas in the tank to get him across the finish line. Whether on fumes or not, Shackleford's name goes on the Woodlawn Vase.
There was a lot of feel-good reporting after the affable Graham Motion won the Derby and I hope it continues for Dale Romans. He is a racetrack lifer, whose longtime partner is former jockey Tammy Fox, and has quietly gone about his business in the upper echelons of the sport without stepping on any toes or making a fool of himself. If you watched the terrific documentary from the Hennegan Brothers, "The First Saturday in May," you'll know what I am talking about.
If you are playing Belmont, you better watch young apprentice rider Ryan Curatolo. He started to get some attention this winter when Patrick Biancone was putting him on live mounts down at Gulfstream Park, and he now has set up shop on the NYRA circuit. Curatolo is currently fifth in the riders' standings with 14 wins from 76 mounts for a healthy 18 percent strike rate.
Curatolo is represented by Tony Micallef and is under contract to Flying Zee Stables. At the age of 19, the native of France is taking a similar path like Julien Leparoux as both started out exercising horses for Biancone before becoming apprentice riders. The Flying Zee connections means you will see him riding for Carlos Martin, Phil Serpe and Frank Martin but now that he has made his presence felt at Belmont – four winners last Saturday – he is showing up on the entry sheet for the likes of Kiaran McLaughlin, Barclay Tagg, Rudy Rodriguez and Christophe Clement.
He is currently getting seven pounds allowance but that will drop to five when he wins his 35th race. From that point forward, he will have a five-pound apprentice allowance for the following 12 months. It's going to be real exciting to watch him grow as a rider and for those that do not think that weight means much, explain to me why the best trainers on the grounds are now competing for his services as young and inexperienced as he is.
by Dick Powell
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