Let’s Pick Up The Pace

Shackleford Leads the KYD Field at a Leisure Pace

The field for the Preakness Stakes will contain its largest possible field of 14 horses and of those, 9 horses are entered that did not run in the Kentucky Derby.  With fresh legs and a shorter total distance, it’s safe to expect faster fractions at the front of the pack.  So, the question on everybody’s mind is: how will our Kentucky Derby Champ respond to what should be a much livelier pace in the Preakness?

Kentucky Derby 137 carried some of the slowest and strangest fractions in the modern era.  In fact, over a Churchill Downs track listed as Fast, 1:13.40 was recorded as the slowest opening 6 furlongs in 64 years.  So, the Kentucky Derby wasn’t your standard race format with rabbits in the front holding on for dear life in the stretch before being swallowed up by the strongest in the field.  It was more like a walk in the park before turning into an all out sprint.  Trying to figure out the reasoning behind such a slow early pace may not be worth looking into for the Preakness Stakes.  What’s most interesting to me is how fast they closed.

Animal Kingdom deserved his win in the Kentucky Derby and jockey John Valezquez gets all the credit for putting his horse right in the so-called “Catbird Seat”.  After stalking as far back as 12th place behind a leisure opening half in 48.63, Animal Kingdom took aim at slowly improving his position.  It was at the 3 quarter pole where John Valezquez got to work, igniting Animal Kingdom to close the final half in :47.61.  Even faster was Dialed In, closing in an incredibly fast time of :47.00.  However, coming from so far off the pace cost him.  Even though he passed a total of 11 horses in the final half, at the end of the race there were still 7 in front.

So what does the Kentucky Derby pace tell us about the Preakness.  Number one is, expect faster opening fractions.  A few horses, most notably Dance City, fit the common racing style term: Speedster.  Last time out in the Arkansas Derby, Dance City raced in 2nd right behind fractions of 46.53 & 1:11.22 before being caught in the stretch and finishing 3rd behind Archarcharch and Nehro.  Another front runner could be Shackleford who took on the role as pace setter in the Kentucky Derby, leading the field from the opening 1/4 through to the stretch before giving up the lead and finishing 4th.  The Derby wasn’t the only big race that he took to liking it out front either.  In the Florida Derby he did the same, holding on gamely before eventually being taken down at the wire by Dialed In.

Though we have to wait and see just how this race will unfold, I expect two things.  One, as mentioned, the opening pace will be much quicker.  Secondly, I anticipate the Kentucky Derby Champ Animal Kingdom and second choice Dialed In to be in the thick of things at the top of the stretch.  What is clear about Dialed In is that he can close with the best of them.  Also there isn’t question that Animal Kingdom is suited to perform and finish strong down the stretch after sitting just off the pace.  What is going to be important for both of these colts however is adapting to the faster pace.  For Dialed In he’s going to have to stay closer to the front before Julien Leparoux asks him to make his charge.  As for Animal Kingdom, I don’t think he be able to afford racing 12th after the opening quarter.  I think Valezquez will be keen on keeping him between 4th – 8th, before moving him into the top 3 or 4 midway through the final turn.

As for the others, it’s still anyone’s game to be won.  Pace may not make or break the race for Animal Kingdom but it can be the key to beating him.

Written by: Little Brink

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