Call it “The Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown” or “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.” Call it forgotten or overlooked.
But the 148th Preakness Stakes steps into center stage on Saturday. And whatever transpires at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore will certainly create more intrigue as the nation’s eyes then turn its attention to the Belmont Stakes.
A potential Triple Crown is at stake. A legend makes his return. An apparent Preakness specialist looks to add another title. A debate rages on.
The Preakness Stakes takes place some 215 miles away. But the implications for New York remain with the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, awaiting.
Mage takes dead-aim at 14th Triple Crown
When the Kentucky Derby gives way to the Preakness Stakes, all eyes turn to the champion with one single question repeatedly asked:
“Can (insert horse name) win the Triple Crown?”
Certainly that inquiry looms over Mage, the 15-1 longshot who claimed the Run for the Roses and now enters Pimlico as the 8-5 favorite.
How Mage attacks the Preakness will be interesting to watch. In the Kentucky Derby, he broke late and was near the back of the pack, ultimately climbing back to sixth a mile into the race before kicking into high gear to win by a length.
Such a strategy may not pay off as well at the Preakness, the shortest of the three Triple Crown races. Still, the question remains: Can Mage keep hopes alive for the third Triple Crown in less than a decade?
There have been 13 Triple Crown winners. The only two since Affirmed in 1978 have been Bob Baffert trainees: American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). Funnily enough, friends of Mage’s trainer, Gustavo Delgado, refer to him as the Venezuelan Bob Baffert.
Speaking of Baffert…
2023 Preakness Stakes: The return of Bob Baffert
A suspension kept the legendary trainer away from any Triple Crown races a year ago. After having to sit out the Kentucky Derby as part of a punishment stemming from Medina Spirit, the 2021 Derby winner, testing positive for a substance beyond its allowable limit, Baffert makes his return at the Preakness.
Out of the No. 1 position, National Treasure holds 4-1 odds of winning at Pimlico, the third-best morning line in the eight-horse field.
Should he win, Baffert would earn his eighth win at the Preakness, breaking a tie for the most victories for a trainer that he currently shares with R. Wyndham Walden from the 1870s and 1880s.
On top of that, jockey John Velasquez, who will mount National Treasure, would earn his sixth win in Triple Crown races – and his first in the Preakness.
Trainer Chad Brown: Preakness specialist?
Six years ago, Javier Castellano (another Mage connection, the horse’s jockey in 2023) won the Preakness with Cloud Computing, marking the first Preakness win for trainer Chad Brown.
Five years later, Brown earned another victory at Pimlico with Early Voting.
In both cases, Brown elected to bypass the Kentucky Derby and instead turned his attention to the Preakness.
This year, Brown did the same with Blazing Sevens, fittingly starting out of the No. 7 position. Could another Brown trainee win the Preakness after skipping the Derby?
For what it’s worth, both Cloud Computing and Early Voting opted to skip the Belmont Stakes, the longest and most arduous of the three Triple Crown races. Time will tell if Brown decides to do the same with Blazing Sevens.
Should Triple Crown change its scheduling?
With each passing race in each passing year, the debate becomes louder: Should Triple Crown scheduling stay the way it is or should we change it up? Specifically, should more time exist between each race?
Many contend that horses need more time to recover and train for each ensuing leg. Currently, two weeks exist between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, followed by a three-week gap leading up to the Belmont Stakes.
Perhaps, some argue, there should be three weeks or a month between the first and second legs. Theoretically, this would encourage owners and trainers who ran in the Derby to also compete in the Preakness rather than skip the race to prepare for the Belmont, which would take place four weeks after the Pimlico run.
This all comes on the heels of 2022 Derby winner Rich Strike bypassing the Preakness, the first Roses champion in good health to skip the race since 1985.
Dave O’Rourke, president and CEO of New York Racing Association, said shortly after that decision that the NYRA has no intentions of signing off on such proposals in the immediate future.
“This is the one thing in racing that is growing and works really well,” O’Rourke told Thoroughbred Daily News. “It’s a worldwide event. You have a Triple Crown contender and everybody is watching. To lose that momentum, yes, that is a big concern.”
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey calls himself a traditionalist and said he would “hate to see us keep changing a lot of different things.” But, he said during a recent telconference, “it’s different times now.”
That said, McGaughey did make one thing clear: “I’m not really in favor of seeing a Triple Crown winner every year.”