The second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, is coming up on Saturday. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, the race has lost a lot of its luster over the past few days.
Rich Strike, the 80-1 longshot that shocked the world by winning the Kentucky Derby, won’t run. His connections are instead pointing to the Belmont Stakes next month.
However, the lack of a Derby winner doesn’t make the Preakness Stakes meaningless. It’s still worthy of your attention, and an event with plenty of intrigue for fans and bettors alike.
Rich Strike wasn’t winning the 2022 Preakness anyway
Consider the circumstances that led to Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby victory. A sprinter, Summer Is Tomorrow, posted some of the fastest early fractions in Kentucky Derby history. Every horse near the front went way too fast, which set things up for a crazy longshot to come from well out of it.
The Preakness was never going to replicate that setup. Summer Is Tomorrow made the Derby field thanks to a second-place finish in the UAE Derby. This gave him 40 Kentucky Derby points, enough to get into the starting gate despite his distance limitations.
This race was always going to have a more realistic early pace scenario. While it may be a touch fast, it won’t be insane. This favors horses with more tactical speed and puts deep closers like Rich Strike at a significant disadvantage.
Talented horses, horsepeople are still showing up
You may remember Epicenter, the 4-1 Kentucky Derby favorite. He led coming into the stretch of that race but settled for second behind Rich Strike.
He’s back for the Preakness, one that should better suit his ideal trip. And he’ll likely be a pretty heavy 2022 Preakness Stakes betting favorite. Trainer Steve Asmussen has won the Preakness twice, with Hall of Famers Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.
In addition, this race will have an element of “girl power” to it. Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, a filly, will challenge the boys for the second time this year. Prior to her win in the Oaks, she ran third in the Arkansas Derby behind Kentucky Derby runners Cyberknife and Barber Road.
Secret Oath is trained by legendary horseman D. Wayne Lukas. He’s won the Preakness six times, and another victory at Pimlico Race Course would tie him for the most in the race’s long history.
It’s still the Preakness Stakes
Look at horse racing’s Triple Crown like a family. The Kentucky Derby is the welcoming matriarch, one who throws a heck of a party. The Belmont Stakes is the demanding patriarch, one that demands excellence not often seen in modern thoroughbreds that will almost certainly never run 1 ½ miles again.
By contrast, the Preakness is the crazy uncle. Weird things happen here, and stories get told for generations.
Secretariat’s Triple Crown included a last-to-first move on the clubhouse turn. American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, poured out a boot full of water after riding his charge through a storm of biblical proportions. More personally, Oxbow won the 2013 Preakness for a pair of legends (trainer Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens) as my top pick, and showed me I might have a future in this game.
Those are just the conventional tales we pass down. Fans who were there remember Codex and Angel Cordero, Jr., getting away with roughing up Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk. Another year, a fan somehow escaped the infield debauchery, got onto the track, and threw a punch at champion sprinter Artax on a Preakness undercard. Thankfully, horse, rider, and moron miraculously escaped without injuries.
Perhaps the most relevant story, though, comes from the 2005 Preakness. In a situation eerily similar to the one that unfolded earlier this month, Giacomo capitalized on a pace meltdown and won the Kentucky Derby. Unlike Rich Strike, he ran back in the Preakness, but he wound up a mere footnote.
Turning for home, leader Scrappy T bore out, which caused Afleet Alex to clip heels. Incredibly, rider Jeremy Rose stayed aboard, his charge regained composure, and Afleet Alex stormed home to the first of two straight popular victories in Triple Crown races.
Long story short: The Preakness matters, whether a Triple Crown is on the line or not.