136th Preakness: Animal Kingdom favored to win in full field

May 18, 2011

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom was made an early 2-1 favorite for the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes after the post position draw on Wednesday.

The chestnut colt, who is ridden by jockey John Velazquez and trained by Maryland’s Graham Motion, will run against a full field of 14 horses. It’s the first time the Preakness has had a full field since 2005. Animal Kingdom drew the No. 11 post position in the draw, a development Motion said was the best possible outcome for his horse.

“It’s great,” Motion said. “I couldn’t be happier, really. I would rather be on the outside than stuck down on the inside.”

Dialed In, who was the morning line Derby favorite but finished eighth, was made the second choice (9-2) by Pimlico handicapper Frank Carulli. He will be in the No. 10 stall, next to Animal Kingdom.

The Florida Derby winner, who is trained by Nick Zito, will be racing for a huge financial payout of $6.1 million, which would be a North American record if he wins. That’s the result of a $5.5 million bonus being offered by MI Developments to any horse who wins the Preakness after winning either the Florida Derby or the Holy Bull Stakes. Dialed In won both prep races.

Zito said he’s not thinking at all about the money aspect of the race. He’d just like to see his horse get another chance to prove himself. Dialed In was squeezed a bit at the start of the Derby, and didn’t expect such a slow first half of the race. He still closed extremely well, in Zito’s opinion.

“It’s the greatest eighth-place finish you’ll ever see,” Zito said of the Derby. “You don’t get anything for it, but it’s the greatest eighth-place finish you’ll ever see. When you see the way he closed, normally any kind of race scenario [he would’ve been right there].”

There are plenty of other horses who could prevent Animal Kingdom from grabbing the second leg of the Triple Crown if he falters. Mucho Macho Man, who drew the No. 9 post, was made the third choice at 6-1. Trainer Kathy Ritvo said the steady rain that has been falling in Baltimore this week could be an advantage for Mucho Macho Man, who finished third in the Derby, if the track stays muddy.

“He loves the mud,” Ritvo said. “I just worked him [Tuesday] at Belmont, and there was so much mud, all you could see was his ears and his legs. He loved it. But it doesn’t matter. He’s such an honest horse. He tries his face off every time, and he’s still learning. He’s improving every race.”

Only three horses in the last 10 years have won the Preakness without first competing in the Kentucky Derby: Red Bullet, Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra. But there are a handful of fresh horses this year that could contend. Dance City, who drew 12-1 odds, looks like the best of the bunch. In five starts, he’s never finished worse than third. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Dance City finished third in a very competitive Arkansas Derby. He had some minor injuries that held him back during the winter, but he seems to be peaking at the right time, according to Pletcher.

“It was just typical baby stuff, a couple minor setbacks along the way,” he said. “He was going to be ready to run at Saratoga, but he popped a little splint and needed some more time. Otherwise, he’s been steadily in training since last May.”

Sway Away is another horse that could run well. He just missed making it into the Derby field on graded stakes earnings, finishing at No. 21 out of 20 horses, but has been training well in Kentucky, according to racing manager Mersad Metanovic, and was listed at 15-1 after drawing post position No. 6.

But for the most part, all eyes will be on Animal Kingdom, a horse that may still have to prove to some people that his Kentucky Derby victory wasn’t a fluke. He’s the only Derby winner in history who had never previously raced on dirt. But it’s not like that creates additional pressure. At the same time, he’s the only horse with a chance to win a Triple Crown this year.

“There is no more pressure than having the Derby winner, so it’s not like there is any more pressure to prove himself,” Motion said. “I’ve followed this in years past and rooted just like anyone else for the Triple Crown horse. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. We’ll deal with the Preakness first.”

— Baltimore Sun

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