How the Preakness Stakes shapes up

First thing to remember, there is really no such thing as a Preakness party. Yes, there is the hat thing, but only at Pimlico, the track in Baltimore that plays host to the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown. No place else.

National interest? Naw, not that much. The horse junkies and sports fans are interested, but the casual person whose equine knowledge is little beyond having four legs is off doing something else.


There is an official drink of the Preakness and it tastes a whole lot better than the syrupy mint julep made famous by the Kentucky Derby.

It's called a black-eyed Susan, and it's a combination of vodka, St. Germain (isn't he the patron saint of drinkers?) and pineapple, orange and lime juice. It's also good for scurvy, if you happen to be taking any really long boat rides.

The black-eyed Susan is also the official flower of the race, supplanting the rose at the Kentucky Derby. It's also the state flower of Maryland.

You should also know the race is 1 3/16 miles, one-sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby. That could be a good thing if your horse is tired after having just run in the Derby two weeks earlier. Two weeks between races used to be the standard, but now, except for the Preakness, it is extremely rare to bring a high-caliber horse back after such a short break.

And, finally, the reason the race is important is there is the possibility of a Triple Crown, which hasn't happened since 1978. This year's possible is American Pharoah.

That's it. It's all you need to know, so let's look at the field:

(Post position, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Morning Line Odds)

1, American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, Bob Baffert, 4-5

How he got here: American Pharoah has won five straight races including the Kentucky Derby. His race in the Derby was very wide, yet he was able to sweep around the final turn and edged ahead of Dortmund and Firing Line down the stretch. At the 1 3/16-mile mark two weeks ago, he was leading.

Why he'll win: There seem to be no flaws in his game. Going into the Derby, people wondered how he would do if he were challenged. He answered that by winning and gaining ground as the finish line approached. Until proved otherwise, he's simply the best horse.

Why he won't: Espinoza had to ride him hard through the turn and down the stretch in the Derby, going to the whip 32 times. Espinoza said he was just tapping him to keep him focused as the horse was spooked by the large crowd. It might be more than that.

2, Dortmund, Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert, 7-2

How he got here: The Derby was his first loss in seven races. He led into the stretch and then looked like he was tiring on the rail. More was expected of him, but he may have had an excuse.

Why he'll win: Before shipping to the Derby, Dortmund had come down with a case of colic (bad stomach), so you can't be sure how much that took out of him. He's better now. Any horse that can dominate the Santa Anita prep races as Dortmund did is always a contender.


Why he won't: Firing Line was finally able to beat Dortmund in the stretch after failing two previous times. The reason could be the extra distance. Dortmund has never had reason to rate (hang back a little) and it's unclear if he can do that. It might be the tactic Garcia uses, but it could be risky.

3, Mr. Z, Corey Nakatani, Wayne Lukas, 20-1

How he got here: This horse is heavily raced, having won only once in 13 tries. His 13th-place finish in the Derby doesn't exactly bring confidence that he should be in Baltimore this weekend. Nakatani has ridden him once, to a third-place finish in a stakes race in Arkansas.

Why he'll win: Nothing really comes to mind and he hasn't really shown anything that makes you think he can. But Wayne Lukas loves the big races and has 14 Triple Crown wins, the last one in the Preakness in 2013 (Oxbow).

Why he won't: The company is just too tough for a horse that hasn't shown he can win at this level. He needs to show his early speed, but with Pharoah and Dortmund on the inside of him that's going to be difficult.

4, Danzig Moon, Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse, 15-1

How he got here: He ran a steady race after getting bumped and finished fifth in the Derby. He has one win and two seconds in six lifetime races. His only win came in a maiden race at Gulfstream.

Why he'll win: The race sets up well for him if the three horses to the inside run fast fractions and allow him to settle on the rail. It could put him in position to make a late charge after saving ground through most of the race. He needs a perfect tactical race.

Why he won't: He's a Canadian bred, need we say more? OK, we'll say more. He hasn't proven that he can win against horses of this class. His fifth in the Derby was very good considering every horse in front of him was considered better going into the race.

5, Tale Of Verve, Joel Rosario, Dallas Stewart, 30-1

How he got here: In his sixth start, he won his first race, and that was April 23. This is his first stakes race. His only win was at 1 3/16 mile, same distance as the Preakness.

Why he'll win: Here's another one that just can't win, but he could break into the top four to spoil some superfectas. He will be coming off the pace, so fast fractions will greatly benefit him. A win would fit under the even-a-blind-squirrel-can-find-an-acorn axiom.

Why he won't: He just doesn't have enough experience at this level of racing.

6, Bodhisattva, Trevor McCarthy, Jose Corrales, 20-1

How he got here: He's won three times in 11 races but never a graded stakes. His win in the Federico Tesio on April 18 at Pimlico put him in position to at least think about this race.

Why he'll win: Sometimes there is just a horse for the course, and he last won at Pimlico. His win in the Tesio allowed him to show versatility as he led until the backstretch and then was second going into the stretch and then rallied to win by more than a length. That shows he can lead or come off the pace.

Why he won't: It's a huge jump in class and one that looks too big to overcome. He has run in only one graded stakes, the Remsen at Aqueduct, and he finished fifth.

7, Divining Rod, Javier Castellano, Arnaud Delacour, 12-1

How he got here: He has never finished out of the money and has two wins in five starts. His last race was a win in Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. He did not run in the Derby. Earlier they tried him on the turf, but that didn't work out — he's a dirt horse.

Why he'll win: He's not as tired as everyone else. The top four horses all ran in the Derby. He hasn't raced since April 11. He does have some talent and his best days are ahead of him.


Why he won't: Like most other horses in this race, he's just not in the same class as the big three. His owners have confidence in him, but this is just too much, too soon.

8, Firing Line, Gary Stevens, Simon Callaghan, 4-1

How he got here: He was a very strong second in the Derby. After losing twice to Dortmund, he proved to be better at the longer distance. He's never finished worse than second in six races.

Why he'll win: He has a very legitimate chance. Just the smallest of mistakes or a jockey error aboard American Pharoah or Dortmund has him draped in black-eyed Susans. And Stevens is the jockey.

Why he won't: Ever hear of Alydar? He was a really great horse that just happened to be running in the same year as Affirmed. Alydar was second in all three Triple Crown races. Firing Line could be in the same position behind American Pharoah.


Race analysis: This year's Preakness breaks down very simply. There are three horses who can win it (American Pharoah, Dortmund and Firing Line). There are two that can hit the board but probably not win it (Danzig Moon and Divining Rod) and three whose only success can be in spoiling someone's superfecta ticket (Mr. Z, Tale Of Verve and Bodhisattva). Let's hope in three weeks we're still talking about the possibility of the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.