Handicapping tomorrow's 103rd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico involves an entirely different set of considerations than did the Kentucky Derby.
The weather, always a factor, is forecast to be pleasant for the big race. But it is spring and rain is always a possibility.
Should the track come up muddy, Affirmed, out of the mud-running Crafty Admiral mare, Won't Tell You, will not get the best of it. Although Affirmed has shown some ability in the slop, his biggest losing margin came on a muddy strip in last year's Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park when he was second to Alydar by 1 1/4 lengths.
Also, Alydar lost in the slop to Believe It in last year's Remsen at Aqueduct. It follows that, should the track come up muddy tomorrow, Believe It, head and head for the lead in the Derby, should step up a couple of lengths at Pimlico.
The likelihood of a fast track brings us to which horse will get the early lead.
The draw for post positions gave a slight edge, among the three top contenders, to Believe It, which could take the early lead should he choose to go for it. Trainer Woody Stephens has insisted that Believe It be rated early in past races by jockey Eddie Maple. However, his best race came about when he was sent for the lead in the Remsen. Believe It has drawn the No. 2 post and will be a threat throughout the race.
Alydar will be able to save ground and that alone will make him tougher. It is expected that Jorge Velasquez will keep him closer to the pace than he did in the Derby, in which it took him more than a mile to get untracked. He worked a snappy 1:10 4/5 for the Preakness and can be expected to be right with the leaders turning for home.
Affirmed is a textbook case of how a horse can be brought up to big races. Laz Barrera has been letter perfect with him this year. His work coming into the Kentucky Derby ranks with Elliot Burch's handling of Key To The Mint late in his 3-year-old year and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons' handling of Nashua for the Widener and his later match with Swaps.
For tomorrow's race, Barrera breezed Affirmed a mile in 1:40 1/5, with the last quarter in 24 2/5, a classic type of move for a fit horse with a tough schedule ahead of him.
Of the longshots, Noon Time Spender appeared to be a dead-short horse in his local bow here last week. In his best race, he does come within a few lengths of Alydar, giving him a chance at a piece of the purse.
Track Reward, a fast track horse, is lightly raced and bred in the purple. His best race came while on the lead, so he may try to go all the way under the clever Bernie Gouzalez.
Indigo Star is trained by King Leatherbury and that is his best shot, especially on his home grounds.
Dax S. is a slow developer which appears to out of his element at this point in his career.
I see the Preakness being run over a fast strip in 1:54 with Affirmed holding off Alydar after a furious stretch duel. Believe It should be third, a length behind the top pair.