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At Preakness, the horses who aren’t there are the story

At Preakness, the horses who aren’t there are the story
Trainer Bob Baffert, shown at the Kentucky Derby, has the Preakness favorite, Improbable at 5-2. (Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

This year’s Preakness is notable not because of who is there but who is not there.

Missing for the first time since 1996 is the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Country House, who came down with a cough just after the Derby and was removed from training.

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Also missing is the disqualified winner of the Derby, Maximum Security. In fact, none of the first four horses to cross the finish line at Churchill Downs are at the Preakness for the first time since 1951.

So, fitting with that theme, it should follow that many of the big-name trainers who do have horses running in the 144th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course decided to skip the traditional anointing of the favorite and assignment of posts.

Bob Baffert, who has the favorite, Improbable at 5-2, was still in California.

Hall of famer Steve Asmussen wasn’t there to see Laughing Fox placed at 20-1. Neither was Dale Romans, who entered his horse Everfast just this week, and drew the longest odds at 50-1.

For the first time the draw was held at an outside tourist venue at the Inner Harbor rather than in one of the luxury tents at the track. The gathering had the feel of something put together by an event planner rather than a get together for some of horse racing’s royalty.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Wednesday’s late afternoon event was the respect paid to Golden Gate Fields favorite Anothertwistafate. Despite finishing second his last two races, Grade 3 Derby preps, he was installed as the third favorite at 6-1 behind Improbable and War Of Will, who was 4-1. Anothertwistafate earned a free pass into the Preakness by winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate. He then finished second in the Sunland Derby and Lexington Stakes.

“We were all thinking 10 [to 1], maybe 8 [to 1] at best,” said trainer Blaine Wright of the odds. “Hey, we’ll see what he ends up at that’s what matters most.”

Anothertwistafate did not draw particularly well, being picked first and assigned the 12 post in the 13-horse field.

“We’ll keep our face clean out there,” Wright said. “We’re a little further out than we were hoping.”

Improbable drew very well on the inside in the four. He finished fifth, then moved to fourth after the disqualification, in the Kentucky Derby.

“I feel like we’re favored by default this year,” said Elliott Walden, of WinStar Farm, majority owner of the colt. “This horse has a good resume. He ran very well in the Derby without hitting the board. He got beat by three lengths and gave us a thrill heading for home. I thought when he tipped out he was going to win. But it looked like he bogged down a little in the mud.”

Improbable is owned by the same principal group that won the Triple Crown last year with Justify.

“I’m very satisfied [with the draw],” Walden said. “It looks like there is a little speed inside of him with War Of Will being in the 1 hole. We’ll see what [jockey] Mike [Smith] wants to do leaving [the gate] and well go from there.”

In what came only be described as a statistical anomaly, War Of Will drew the 1 post again, considered the worst in horse racing because of the lack of mobility to the inside. He was in the 1 slot in the Kentucky Derby.

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“I just felt like it was coming,” trainer Mark Casse said. “Jay Privman [of the Daily Racing Form] figured out it was 260-1 that we could get the 1 again. I don’t think [it’s a big deal] but I don’t have all the statistics.”

Since 1909, there have been 111 runnings of the Preakness (one year there were two divisions) and the horse starting in the 1 post has won 10 times (9%). The best post is the 6 with 16 winners (14.4%). The last horse to win from the 1 was Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in 2015.

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