This year’s running of the Preakness Stakes is wide open and lacks a deserving favorite. It might not be flashy, but it nevertheless will be a great betting race on a great betting card at Pimlico. The 2019 Preakness features an evenly matched 13-horse field that will not include either the actual Kentucky Derby winner, Maximum Security, or the DQ beneficiary who inherited the victory, Country House.
Many of the horses in contention to win this year’s Preakness will be hailing from barns that most handicappers do not usually associate with Triple Crown races. Therefore, the race seems primed for a better-priced winner this year and it should offer good value in the exotics if you can come up with the right horses.
Much of the 2019 Preakness field will be made-up of new shooters with very few also-rans from the Kentucky Derby taking another shot at Pimlico. From the Derby, only Improbable (fourth), War of Will (seventh), Win Win Win (ninth), and perhaps Bodexpress (13th) will be in the starting gate for the Preakness.
Of the group of Kentucky Derby grads, the best choice in Baltimore looks like War of Will, who looked good in Fair Grounds wins this winter in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes for high-profile trainer Mark Casse and then drew the dreaded No. 1 post position in the Kentucky Derby. He was in contention after being bothered a little bit turning for home, but then flattened out badly in deep stretch at 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs. The slightly shorter 1 3/16-mile distance of the Preakness, however, should help his chances. Unfortunately for War of Will, though, he drew the rail again in the Preakness and the rail in the Preakness is just as bad as the rail in the Derby — or worse (see my article on Preakness trends for details).
The most likely Preakness favorite will be Improbable, in part based on his decent fifth-place finish (fourth via DQ) in Louisville and also based on the fact he’s trained by Bob Baffert, the country’s most famous trainer of multiple Preakness winners and two Triple Crown winners. However, he certainly doesn’t look like a standout and, in fact, looks like one that can be beaten at underlay odds at Pimlico.
The rest of the Preakness field will be new shooters — and this new shooter group seems like the best place for handicappers to put their support in 2019. After all, no horses from the original Kentucky Derby superfecta will run in the Preakness, and there rarely has ever been a better chance for a new shooter to shine than in this year’s Preakness.
This group is headed by Maryland monster Alwaysmining, plus a solid line-up of others including Anothertwistafate, Laughing Fox, Owendale, Bourbon War, Warrior’s Charge, Market King, and Signalman.
Horseplayers gravitating to other household names might land on the horses trained by Baffert and Casse. There are also three other winning trainers of Triple Crown races in the 2019 Preakness field. This group includes Signalman trained by Ken McPeek (won the Belmont with Sarava), Laughing Fox trained by Steve Asmussen (won two Preaknesses with Curlin in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009), and the living legend D. Wayne Lukas also will have a Preakness starter with Market King. Lukas has won the Preakness six times, including as recently as 2013 (with Oxbow). He just missed another upset last year with Bravazo.
Signalman has yet to get back into his best form as a 3-year-old, Market King was third in a division of the Rebel and Laughing Fox is a contender based on his fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby behind the likes of Omaha Beach, Improbable and Country House.
Nevertheless, the real strength in the 2019 Preakness could in fact be with horses trained by lower-profile trainers on the national stage, who could have the right horse at the right time in a turbulent year for the Preakness.
Not only could this be the year for a new shooter to shine in the Preakness, but it could also be a prime year for a new trainer to break through. These trainers include Kelly Rubley (Alwaysmining), Blaine Wright (Anothertwistofate), Gustavo Delgado (Bodexpress), Mark Hennig (Bourbon War), Brad Cox (Owendale and Warrior’s Charge) and Michael Trombetta (Win Win Win).
The highest-profile horse of the lower-profile barn new shooters will be Alwaysmining, the horse that swept the Laurel winter/spring series for 3-year-olds with victories in the Miracle Wood in February, the Private Terms in March and the Federico Tesio in April for trainer Kelly Rubley. The latter win was at 1 1/8 miles and Alwaysmining represents the best chance in many years for a locally-based horse to take the Preakness.
Along with the Federico Tesio, some other races have recently become unofficial Preakness prep races, including the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. The top two finishers from that race this year, Owendale trained by Brad Cox (also trains April 12 Oaklawn allowance winner Warrior’s Charge) and Anothertwistofate, trained by Blane Wright, who earlier had won the Sunland Park Derby, have the credentials to be serious contenders versus this year’s Preakness field. The aforementioned Laughing Fox, trained by Asmussen, was the winner of the brand new Oaklawn Invitational — a race that was designed to be a Preakness prep all along.
The final promising Preakness contender is Bourbon War, who lands at Pimlico after falling short on the number of points needed to get into this year’s Kentucky Derby. Bourbon War was a pace-compromised fourth in the Florida Derby and a solid second behind Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth. He was flattered when Code of Honor ran third (second via DQ) in the Kentucky Derby, and will have a chance to give veteran trainer Mark Hennig his first Preakness winner.