The middle jewel of the Triple Crown is tarnished.
Saturday’s Preakness Stakes won’t have the Kentucky Derby’s disqualified winner, Maximum Security, seeking redemption. His owner is too busy sulking and litigating. Nor will awarded Derby winner Country House, who has a breathing problem, come to the Preakness. Runner-up Code of Honor and third-place Tacitus are ignoring Baltimore, too.
It’s the worst Preakness field in decades just one year after Justify became the second colt in four years to sweep the Triple Crown. Only four Derby runners ventured to Old Hilltop in the field of 13.
Pimlico Race Course will be filled with pretenders, since none of the top horses entered. Derby fourth-place finisher Improbable should be a heavy Preakness favorite since there are few credible challengers.
What happened to create such a mess?
A perfect confluence of events has stripped thoroughbred racing’s spring classics of all their momentum. Churchill Downs stewards overreacted to a common racing mishap, cowering in the pressure of a worldwide Derby audience. It was like being exiled from a city for jaywalking.
Gary West, owner of Maximum Security, disqualified for interfering with another runner, showed poor sportsmanship by immediately bypassing the Preakness. He should have entered the colt to win the Preakness and prove he’s the nation’s best 3-year-old, and maybe even capture the Belmont Stakes on June 8, too.
If a court challenge eventually awards Maximum Security the Derby victory, we will never know if he could have won the Triple Crown. And without Maximum Security, racing lacks a credible Preakness contender.
Country House reportedly has a breathing problem and will be the first Derby winner to skip the Preakness since Grindstone was injured during his 1996 Derby triumph. I suspect Country House’s owners know the colt ran his best race ever after winning just one of his first six starts and can only lose value as a future stallion with every loss. They don’t want to prove the Derby was a fluke by losing the Preakness.
It’s hard to be excited over the Preakness. This is the worst field since 2014, when California Chrome beat eight nobodies, with only Bayern later distinguishing himself. The 2000 Preakness saw only two Derby runners, and newcomer Red Bullet upset Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
There is no standout in this Preakness. Surely, Improbable will be the choice after finishing fourth at 4-1 odds, but he’s never been especially impressive. Win Win Win will get some respect for his local connections after placing ninth in the Derby. War of Will might try to steal it early after fading badly for seventh in the Derby.
In the end, this Preakness will be best remembered for being forgettable.
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