A groundswell of support for Colonel Moran is developing here, so strong that some oddsmakers think he may be favored over Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Rise in the Preakness.
Colonel Moran did defeat the filly in their only meeting, and he won his last start in a fashion that convinced many knowledgeable handicappers that he is the horse to beat on Saturday.
I hate him.
I hate him so much that I am going to reach deep into my bankroll to bet against the likelihood that he can even finish in the money at Pimlico.
I believe that the result of the Derby was a true bill, a clear indication of the superiority of Genuine Risk and the third-place finisher Jaklin Klugman. The only horse who conceivably could upset them in the Preakness is the California invader Codex. And I'm very skeptical about him.
Colonel Morgan is a miler. He has tried to go farther than a mile four times and he has won only once, against a terrible field under somewhat flukey conditions. His race in the 1 1/8-mile Flamingo Stakes exposed his shortcomings as a distance runner.Subjected to early pressure, he collapsed and lost by 14 lengths.
His growing legion of fans will point to Colonel Moran's performance in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct on April 19, when he finished second to his stablemake Plugged Nickle, with Genuine Risk third. In fact, this was a dismal performance for all of them; the time of the race verified that.
Genuine Risk was not more than halfway fit when Colonel Moran beat her by a head that day; she had to improve sharply to win the Derby. A better gauge of the quality of the Wood was Plugged Nickle, who went to Kentucky and finished seventh.
Colonel Moran passed the Derby and then ran in last Saturday's Withers Stakes over a mile at Aqueduct, winning by 5 1/2 lengths in a swift 1:34 2/5. But he ran fast because the track was extraordinarily fast that day, and he did it at his optimal distance. There is a big difference between a mile and the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
Some handicappers believe that Colonel Moran will be able to negotiate the distance by taking a clear lead without any early pressure. This probably won't happen. All jockeys and trainers are aware of the importance of early speed and the Preakness; and Jaklin Klugman, Genuine Risk and longshot Knight Landing all have the quickness to keep Colonel Morgan from inheriting an uncontested early advantage.
The widespread infatuation with Colonel Moran stems from a popular misapprehension at Churchill downs two weeks ago. Before the Kentucky Dery, everyone was saying that this was a bad year for 3-year-olds, and the fact that a filly won the event for the first time in 65 years confirmed that notion for many people.
But the Teletimer said otherwise. Genuine Risk won in 2:02 (with Jaklin Klugman only two-fifths of a second behind her). Her performance was better than that of recent Derby winners like Riva Ridge, Foolish Pleasure and Bold Forbes, all of whom were respected as legitimate champion. A faint-hearted winner of the Withers Mile would never have been favored in the Preakness over them .
I saw nothing illegitimate about the performances of either Genuine Risk or Jaklin Klugman. Both lost considerable ground running around the turn at Churchill Downs. Both had to rally and overhaul leaders who were still fresh after setting a slow early pace.
Both have trained well at Pimlico, so there is every reason to believe they will duplicate -- or improre upon -- their Derby performances. If they do, only Codex can prevent them from finishing one-two in the Preakness.
Codex's performances in California suggested strongly that he may be the best 3-year-old in America. But he will have to surmount two significant disadvantages on Saturday.
He will be coming into the Preakness after a 34-day layoff from competition. No horse in modern times has won a Triple Crown race this way, although trainer Wayne Lukas obviously knows his horse and knows what is best for him.
Codex will be running for the first time outside California, on a track much different from the hard racing strips in the West. Many horses fail utterly to make this transition. Lukas conceded, "Any time you go and play on the other guy's ball field you're taking the worst of it."
I think these disadvantages will hurt Codex, but I can't be certain and I can't estimate their effects with any precision. Accordingly, I am going to hedge my bets in the Preakness a bit.
I will bet with gusto at Pimlico on exactas combining Genuine Risk and Jaklin Klugman. As a saver, I will box Codex with these two horses in the triples at New York City's off-track betting. Only Colonel Moran can keep me from making money. And that's not going to happen.