by Jon White
May 12, 2021
Before I get to my selections for this Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Preakness Stakes, I can’t ignore the elephant -- or more specifically, the horse -- in the room. The horse, of course, is Medina Spirit.
As of May 12, Medina Spirit is still the official winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. But his status as such is in serious jeopardy.
In a stunning announcement last Sunday that rocked Thoroughbred racing, Bob Baffert, Medina Spirit’s Hall of Fame trainer, said he received word that the colt had tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone. Betamethasone is a corticosteroid used to reduce inflammation.
While Betamethasone is permitted for training in Kentucky, the state’s rule regarding this substance vis-a-vis racing is crystal clear. Whereas the allowable threshold for betamethasone in a post-race test in Kentucky previously had been 10 picograms, it was changed last year to disallow even a trace amount.
Not surprisingly, Baffert’s announcement last Sunday caused an immediate uproar.
Baffert, who has had a rash of positives over the past year or so, spent much of Sunday and Monday in a media blitz. Over and over, he stated categorically that Medina Spirit had “never” been administered betamethasone.
But then Tuesday, Baffert released a statement through his attorney, Craig Robertson, stating that Medina Spirit had been treated with an anti-fungal ointment containing betamethasone. Baffert’s statement, as posted by the Paulick Report, is as follows:
“On May 8, 2021, I was informed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that Medina Spirit allegedly tested positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone. On May 9, 2021, I held a press conference in which I stated that I intended to thoroughly investigate how this could have happened and that I would be completely transparent throughout the process. I immediately began that investigation, which has resulted in me learning of a possible source for the betamethasone, and now, as promised, I want to be forthright about what I have learned.
“Following the Santa Anita Derby, Medina Spirit developed dermatitis on his hind end. I had him checked out by my veterinarian who recommended the use of an anti-fungal ointment called Otomax. The veterinary recommendation was to apply this ointment daily to give the horse relief, help heal the dermatitis, and prevent it from spreading. My barn followed this recommendation and Medina Spirit was treated with Otomax once a day up until the day before the Kentucky Derby. Yesterday, I was informed that one of the substances in Otomax is betamethasone.
“While we do not know definitively that this was the source of the alleged 21 picograms found in Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample, and our investigation is continuing, I have been told by equine pharmacology experts that this could explain the test results. As such, I wanted to be forthright about this fact as soon as I learned of this information.
“As I have stated, my investigation is continuing and we do not know for sure if this ointment was the cause of the test results, or if the test results are even accurate, as they have yet to be confirmed by the split sample. However, again, I have been told that a finding of a small amount, such as 21 picograms, could be consistent with application of this type of ointment. I intend to continue to investigate and I will continue to be transparent.
“In the meantime, I want to reiterate two points I made when this matter initially came to light. First, I had no knowledge of how betamethasone could have possibly found its way into Medina Spirit (until now) and this has never been a case of attempting to game the system or get an unfair advantage. Second, horse racing must address its regulatory problem when it comes to substances which can innocuously find their way into a horse's system at the picogram (which is a trillionth of a gram) level. Medina Spirit earned his Kentucky Derby win and my pharmacologists have told me that 21 picograms of betamethasone would have had no effect on the outcome of the race. Medina Spirit is a deserved champion and I will continue to fight for him.”
CHURCHILL DOWNS BANS BAFFERT ENTRIES
Following Baffert’s revelation last Sunday of Medina Spirit’s positive test, Churchill Downs issued the following statement:
“It is our understanding that Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s post-race blood sample indicated a violation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s equine medication protocols. The connections of Medina Spirit have the right to request a test of a split sample and we understand they intend to do so. To be clear, if the findings are upheld, Medina Spirit’s results in the Kentucky Derby will be invalidated and Mandaloun will be declared the winner.
“Failure to comply with the rules and medication protocols jeopardizes the safety of the horses and jockeys, the integrity of our sport and the reputation of the Kentucky Derby and all who participate. Churchill Downs will not tolerate it. Given the seriousness of the alleged offense, Churchill Downs will immediately suspend Bob Baffert, the trainer of Medina Spirit, from entering any horses at Churchill Downs Racetrack. We will await the conclusion of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation before taking further steps.”
MEDINA SPIRIT ALLOWED TO ENTER PREAKNESS
Post positions for the Preakness originally were to be drawn Monday. But the Maryland Jockey Club announced last Sunday that the draw for the May 15 card at Pimlico, highlighted by the Preakness, was going to be delayed until Tuesday because of the Medina Spirit situation.
1/ST Racing/The Stronach Group issued the following statement last Sunday:
“Integrity in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing is the ultimate priority for 1/ST Racing and the Maryland Jockey Club. 1/ST Racing has been an industry leader instituting processes and protocols that have led to nationwide medication reform and increased accountability. We are committed to achieving the highest level of horse care and safety standards, and we have a proven track record of pushing those standards forward.
“1/ST Racing and MJC intend to review the relevant facts and information relating to the reported medication positive as a result of the post-race blood sample testing completed by Churchill Downs following the 147th Kentucky Derby involving Medina Spirit trained by Bob Baffert. We are consulting with the Maryland Racing Commission and any decision regarding the entry of Medina Spirit in the 146th Preakness Stakes will be made after review of the facts.”
Whether or not Medina Spirit and/or Concert Tour, also trained by Baffert, would be permitted to be entered in the Preakness remained up in the air until Tuesday. Baffert’s attorney then stated Tuesday that an agreement had been reached to allow Medina Spirit and Concert Tour to be entered in the race.
The Paulick Report posted the following letter sent by Robertson to Alan Rifkin, counsel for the Maryland Jockey Club, which discussed the conditions of the agreement:
“Dear Mr. Rifkin,
“In the best interest of horse racing, and the integrity of the sport, Mr. Baffert consents to blood testing, monitoring and medical record review by the Maryland Jockey Club (“MJC”) on the horse Medina Spirit, and two other horses trained by Mr. Baffert. Medina Spirit and Concert Tour are presently entered in the Preakness Stakes and Beautiful Gift is presently entered in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.
“In addition to the testing and monitoring conducted by the Maryland Racing Commission (“MRC”) and/or in cooperation with the MRC, the horses were tested upon arrival at Pimlico and further blood samples will also be drawn today and as may be further determined by MJC from each of the horses. The MJC blood samples will be tested by a lab chosen by the MJC.
“Consistent with the fair procedure process provided by The Stronach Group, Mr. Baffert consents to information regarding the results of the MRC and MJC tests, and other relevant medical and administrative records relating to the horses being disclosed to the MJC and Dr. Dionne Benson, The Stronach Group Chief Veterinary Officer.
“If any of the three horses test positive for a banned substance, or at a level for a permitted therapeutic substance which is above the designated limit, or if reasonable conditions warrant after MJC’s review of the medical or administrative records, Mr. Baffert, or MJC on his behalf, will scratch that horse from the upcoming race in which that horse is entered this weekend at Pimlico.
“Mr. Baffert has given these consents to further the interests of horse racing and the public. MJC may provide this letter and consents herein to the MRC and Mr. Baffert consents to the public release of this letter and all testing results. Mr. Baffert represents that he has authority to grant the consents represented herein on behalf of the owners of the aforementioned horses.
“The integrity of the sport is of the upmost importance to Mr. Baffert and by consenting to this testing regimen and monitoring he reaffirms his commitment and dedication to the sport. Please let me know if you have any questions.
After the draw for Preakness post positions Tuesday, Rifkin said: “TSG [The Stronach Group] and MJC [Maryland Jockey Club], as you all know, care deeply about the integrity of the sport. But that also includes the integrity of due process. So today we reached an agreement with Mr. Baffert and his lawyers that allows for additional testing, additionally monitoring, essentially a watch list, to ensure the integrity of the sport leading up to the race. So we are very pleased to have that. We appreciate Mr. Baffert’s participation and the way his lawyers went about it.”
PAST KENTUCKY DERBY DISQUALIFICATIONS
Two years ago, Maximum Security finished first in the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths. But he was disqualified and placed 17th by the stewards for committing a foul when he veered out nearing the five-sixteenths pole and caused interference to War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.
It was the first time in the history of the Kentucky Derby that a winner had been disqualified for an incident during the running of the race.
In a gigantic upset, Country House was declared the official 2019 Kentucky Derby winner, returning $132.40 for each $2 win wager.
Gate Dancer, who became known for racing with earmuffs, finished fourth in the 1984 Kentucky Derby. But he was disqualified and placed fifth for causing interference to Fali Time. Gate Dancer lugged in during the stretch run and bumped poor little Fali Time “several times,” as noted in the Daily Racing Form chart.
Later in 1984, Gate Dancer finished second to Wild Again in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park. Slew o’ Gold ended up third. But the stewards ruled that Gate Dancer had caused interference during the stretch run. Gate Dancer was disqualified and placed third, behind Slew o’ Gold.
Dancer’s Image rallied from last in a field of 14 to win the 1968 Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths over Forward Pass. However, the post-race urinalysis of Dancer’s Image showed the presence of Butazolidin, which at the time was a prohibited medication in Kentucky. Consequently, Forward Pass was declared to be the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby except for pari-mutuel payoffs. First purse money and the winning trophy were awarded to Forward Pass’ owner, Calumet Farm, by order of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Peter Fuller, who owned Dancer’s Image, fought the disqualification in court for years, but to no avail.
Forward Pass won the subsequent Preakness by six lengths. Dancer’s Image finished third, then was disqualified and placed eighth for causing interference during the stretch run.
In addition to becoming the first horse ever disqualified in the Kentucky Derby, Dancer’s Image became the first horse ever DQ’d in the Preakness.
If Forward Pass had gone on to win the Belmont, he would have become a Triple Crown with an asterisk due to having won the Kentucky Derby through disqualification. But Forward Pass finished second in the Belmont, 1 1/2 lengths behind Stage Door Johnny (one of my all-time favorite broodmare sires).
2021 TRIPLE CROWN PICTURE
As mentioned earlier, as of May 12, Medina Spirit is still the official winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. As long as this is the case, if Medina Spirit is victorious in the Preakness, he would head to the Belmont with a chance to become this country’s 14th Triple Crown winner and Baffert’s third horse to sweep the three races, following American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.
But if Medina Spirit is, at some point, disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, then a possible Triple Crown sweep is out of the question for him, even should he win the Preakness.
And it now seems highly likely that Medina Spirit is, at some point, going to be disqualified from his Kentucky Derby victory, especially after Baffert stated Tuesday that Medina Spirit had been treated with an ointment containing betamethasone.
The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Tim Sullivan explained why it’s highly likely that Medina Spirit is, at some point, going to be disqualified from his Kentucky Derby victory.
“Whether the 21 picograms of betamethasone detected in Medina Spirit’s blood sample could have made any difference in the outcome of the Derby is an interesting question, but ultimately irrelevant to the disqualification decision,” Sullivan wrote. “Kentucky regulations call for a mandatory disqualification and loss of purse if any verifiable amount of betamethasone is found in post-race testing and confirmed by a split sample.”
In light of Baffert stating Tuesday that Medina Spirit had been treated with an ointment containing betamethasone, it now seems a slam-dunk that the split sample will confirm the presence of betamethasone in Medina Spirit’s system when he ran in the Kentucky Derby.
Mandaloun finished second in the Kentucky Derby. If Mandaloun is declared the Kentucky Derby winner at some point through the disqualification of Medina Spirit, it will take the possibility of a Triple Crown sweep off the table this year prior to the June 5 Belmont even if Medina Spirit wins the Preakness.
Medina Spirit “drew” post position 3 for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. No, Medina Spirit was not “assigned” post 3, as Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee wrote.
I watched the draw for Preakness post positions on TVG. You know what? I did not see anyone do any assigning. To say post positions were “assigned” for the Preakness is like saying someone “assigned” the winning lottery numbers. The Preakness post positions were, as usual, determined by a random draw. Look, I know that I keep harping on this. But wrong is wrong. Perhaps the day will come when McGee stops making this mistake over and over again. I really hope so.
My Preakness selections are below:
1. Concert Tour
2. Medina Spirit
3. Midnight Bourbon
4. Crowded Trade
It really was an extremely tough decision for me whether to make Concert Tour or Medina Spirit my top pick. But I am going to go with my gut. My gut is telling me to go with Concert Tour.
I just can’t forget what Baffert said about Concert Tour after the Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt won Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes in front-running fashion by 4 1/4 lengths on March 13.
“To me, it was kind of an American Pharoah-type run,” Baffert said. “He was doing it with ease, with plenty left.”
In 2015, American Pharoah won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby for Baffert, then swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
Prior to this year’s Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 10, I think most people would have ranked Baffert’s 3-year-old colts this way: Life Is Good at No. 1, Concert Tour at No. 2, then Medina Spirit at No. 3.
But then Concert Tour finished third as a 3-10 favorite for Baffert and owners Gary and Mary West in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Super Stock won in a 12-1 upset. Caddo River finished third.
Prior to the Arkansas Derby, Concert Tour had trounced both Super Stock and Caddo River in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel. Super Stock lost by 6 1/2 lengths. Caddo River finished 6 3/4 lengths behind Concert Tour.
I’ve heard people say Concert Tour “ran a stinker” in the Arkansas Derby. Did he disappoint as an overwhelming favorite? Yes. But did he run a stinker? No. He lost by 2 1/2 lengths, not 12 1/2 or 22 1/2 lengths.
With three weeks between the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby, the decision was made by Baffert and Gary West for Concert Tour to skip the Run for the Roses.
“Three weeks just wasn’t enough to really feel comfortable to go” to the Kentucky Derby, Baffert explained. “And Gary West really didn’t feel comfortable running in the Derby after a race like that” by Concert Tour in the Arkansas Derby.”
Considering I, like so many others, ranked Concert Tour higher than Medina Spirit among Baffert’s 3-year-old colts prior to the Arkansas Derby, I am going to go ahead and rank Concert Tour higher than Medina Spirit going into the Preakness. Hence, Concert Tour is my top pick in the Preakness.
I will say that one reason it is difficult for me to not make Medina Spirit my top pick Saturday is Baffert’s prowess in winning the Preakness with his Kentucky Derby winners. Indeed, when the two races have been run in May, all six of Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winners (Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018) returned two weeks later to take the Preakness.
Baffert once said that he believes one of the reasons for his success when starting a horse in the Preakness just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby is what he had to do for many years when running horses in futurities and derbies during his Quarter Horse days.
For futurities and derbies during Baffert’s time as a Quarter Horse conditioner, qualifying trials generally would be held just one week earlier. Baffert learned to deal with what he called “the quick turnaround in the Quarter Horse world” by having a horse “run well enough” to qualify for the futurity or derby, but “not too well.” The goal was for the horse to come back a week after the trial and still be able to take a serious run at winning the futurity or derby.
The only time a Kentucky Derby winner trained by Baffert has not subsequently won the Preakness was last year. That’s when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were run later in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plus there were four weeks between the two races instead of the usual two weeks. The Kentucky Derby was held on Sept. 5. The Preakness was run on Oct. 3.
Baffert won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Authentic, who then finished second in the Preakness, which he lost by a head to the filly Swiss Skydiver.
Mindful of Baffert’s terrific Preakness record with his Kentucky Derby winners, I may regret not making Medina Spirit my top pick for Saturday’s race. But another reason I am choosing Concert Tour is I am going to take my own advice from 1973.
DON’T OVERREACT TO A SINGLE DEFEAT
As I recently wrote for Xpressbet.com, I was sky high on Secretariat in the spring of 1973. In my high school newspaper, the Lewis and Clark Journal, I wrote on March 22, 1973: “Going out on a limb and living dangerously I daresay that 1973 will be a historic year as Secretariat will become the first Triple Crown winner since the great Citation in 1948.”
Two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat finished third in the Wood Memorial. Angle Light won. Sham ran second. Lucien Laurin trained both Angle Light and Secretariat.
Secretariat lost the Wood Memorial by four lengths. Yes, the great Secretariat lost that race by an even larger margin than Concert Tour’s 2 1/2-length margin of defeat in the Arkansas Derby.
In the outstanding book “Big Red of Meadow Stable,” William Nack wrote of the 1973 Wood Memorial: “Later, trainer Lucien Laurin revealed that an abscess inside Secretariat’s mouth must have caused the horse serious discomfort, possibly accounting for the defeat.”
Of course, as a high school student in Spokane, Wash., I had no inkling that an abscess inside Secretariat’s mouth might have accounted for his defeat in the Wood. But even without having any knowledge of the abscess, I steadfastly stuck with Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby.
“You can’t throw out a horse because of one defeat. It takes more than that,” I wrote on April 25 in the Lewis and Clark Journal when explaining why I was still picking Secretariat to win the Kentucky Derby despite his defeat in the Wood. “A perfect example is last year when Riva Ridge lost the Everglades but came back strongly to take the Blue Grass Stakes, Kentucky Derby and grueling Belmont Stakes.”
On April 25 (10 days before the race), these were my 1973 Kentucky Derby selections in the Lewis and Clark Journal:
3. Stop the Music
4. Angle Light
Secretariat came charging from last to win the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. He completed 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 2/5, breaking the track record set by Northern Dancer in the 1964 Kentucky Derby by three-fifths of a second. All these years later, Secretariat’s record still stands.
Sham ran fast enough to win most Kentucky Derbies, but he had to settle for second while finishing eight lengths clear of Our Native in third. Forego (a future three-time Horse of the Year) ran fourth in the field 13.
MORE TIME BETWEEN RACES A PLUS?
Even though Baffert has excelled when dealing with the two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, I like the fact that Concert Tour is fresher than Medina Spirit going into the Preakness.
Medina Spirit ran a hard race in Louisville two weeks ago. It’s been five weeks between the Arkansas Derby and Preakness for Concert Tour, which is a time between starts that seems to be more preferable in the way Thoroughbreds are raced nowadays.
HOW WILL THE PACE UNFOLD?
Am I concerned that Concert Tour drew the outside post in the Preakness field of 10? No. Actually, I like it. If I’m right and Concert Tour is the horse I think he is, someone capable of an American Pharoah-type performance, I can picture him seizing the early lead and staying in front all the way to the end.
If Concert Tour does get the early advantage, it might not be good for Medina Spirit.
In Medina Spirit’s two wins this year, he took the early lead. In the three races this year in which he did not get the early lead, he finished second each time.
On the other hand, if it’s Medina Spirit in front early Saturday, it might not be good for Concert Tour. Can Concert Tour win Saturday if he is second early, behind Medina Spirit? Maybe. Concert Tour did come from slightly off the pace to win Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 6.
But a potential problem for Concert Tour if it turns out Medina Spirit does scoot to the early lead Saturday is how tenacious Medina Spirit can be when he is able to show the way early. Medina Spirit demonstrated that when he won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30 and again when victorious in the Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit’s determination during the stretch drive of the Kentucky Derby “was sort of the same race he ran when he won the Robert Lewis,” Baffert said.
In the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit refused to relinquish the lead all the way down the lane while fending off Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality, who finished 2-3-4 in that order. Medina Spirit prevailed by a half-length.
There is another possible scenario this Saturday. What if Medina Spirit and Concert Tour chew themselves up because they both get involved in a fast early pace? This would be akin to what occurred in the Arkansas Derby. Caddo River set a fast pace while being pushed hard by Concert Tour at Oaklawn that day. They set it up for Super Stock, who ran past the weary pair late to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths.
One should always remember that trying to forecast the pace in a horse race can be tricky. What occurs at the break can significantly affect how a race and its pace unfolds, as evidenced by what happened with potential pace factors Rock Your World, Essential Quality and Midnight Bourbon at the outside of the Kentucky Derby.
BEST THORO-GRAPH NUMBER IN THE DERBY
Still another reason I am not going with Medina Spirit as my top pick in the Preakness are the Thoro-Graph numbers from the Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit was credited with a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his Kentucky Derby triumph. Essential Quality, the 5-2 favorite who as noted previously finished fourth, received a 100 Beyer for that race.
Thoro-Graph takes many more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
“I’m guessing that Essential Quality will be the Kentucky Derby starter who quite possibly will emerge from the race with the best Thoro-Graph number,” I wrote last week. “When it comes to Thoro-Graph, a lower number is better than a higher one. This is the opposite of Beyer Speed Figures.”
I was right in that Essential Quality’s Thoro-Graph number for the Kentucky Derby did turn out to be the best of anyone in the race.
Medina Spirit? Three horses -- Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun -- recorded a better Thoro-Graph number in the Kentucky Derby than Medina Spirit.
It’s a lot easier for me to pick against Medina Spirit in the Preakness when, according to Thoro-Graph, not one, not two, but three horses ran a better race than the Florida-bred Protonico colt in the Kentucky Derby.
Below are the Thoro-Graph numbers for the first seven finishers in the Kentucky Derby:
Finish Horse (Thoro-Graph Number)
4. Essential Quality (negative 1/4)
3. Hot Rod Charlie (1/2)
2. Mandaloun (1 1/4)
1. Medina Spirit (1 1/2)
5. O Besos (3)
6. Midnight Bourbon (3)
7. Keepmeinmind (4)
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for the first seven finishers in the Kentucky Derby:
Finish Horse (Beyer Speed Figure)
1. Medina Spirit (102)
2. Mandaloun (101)
3. Hot Rod Charlie (100)
4. Essential Quality (100)
5. O Besos (94)
6. Midnight Bourbon (90)
7. Keepmeinmind (90)
Brad Cox trains Essential Quality, who took a five-for-five record and an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 2020 into the Kentucky Derby. You may recall what Cox said when asked if he believed that Essential Quality might have been the best horse in the Kentucky Derby because of his wide trip,
“I do,” Cox said. “I think he was the best horse. People can say what they want, but he was beaten a length and ran 68 feet further than the winner.”
Some say that Essential Quality, who moved up to loom menacingly turning for home, had every chance to overtake Medina Spirit when coming down the long Churchill stretch. And that is true. But any way you slice it, it’s also very difficult for a horse to run 68 feet farther than someone and still beat them.
WATCH OUT FOR MIDNIGHT BOURBON
Prior to the Kentucky Derby for Xpressbet, I wrote: “Watch out for Bob Baffert” and Medina Spirit.
For the Preakness, I am saying watch out for Midnight Bourbon.
Much has been made (and rightfully so) concerning Rock Your World’s messy start in the Kentucky Derby as the 9-2 second favorite. It took him out of his game. He finished 17th in the field of 19 for his first career loss after winning the Grade I Santa Anita Derby by 4 1/4 lengths over none other than Medina Spirit.
But Midnight Bourbon also was taken out of his game in the Kentucky Derby when he broke flat-footed and lost “valuable early position,” as Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman put it.
Countdown to the Crown’s Jeremy Plonk wrote that Midnight Bourbon’s “instant tardiness got him entangled with Dynamic One and the hind end of Hot Rod Charlie, which took the potential front-runner out of his game and helped change the complexion up front for the eventual winner.
“To his credit, Midnight Bourbon did not go thrashing and become overly aggressive in makeup mode,” Plonk continued. “That’s what you might have expected, so it was positive to see him settle into Plan B. He was pushed out into the three path around the clubhouse turn and tipped widest of all once straightened onto the backstretch. That kept him in the clear, while Mike Smith got him back in touch into the four path on the far turn. He ran on decently through the stretch in a better-than-looks effort, given where he was supposed to be in the running early.”
As far back as 14th at one point, Midnight Bourbon improved his position in the final four furlongs to finish sixth.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trains Midnight Bourbon, a Kentucky-bred colt by Tiznow, the only two-time winner of the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic. Asmussen has won the Preakness twice, first with Curlin in 2007, then with the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Don’t take Crowded Trade or Risk Taking lightly this Saturday. They are trained by Chad Brown, who won the 2017 Preakness with Cloud Computing.
Crowded Trade is light on experience. He has just three career starts under his belt. But I think he has a fair amount of talent, which is why I’m picking him fourth in the Preakness.
After finishing second in Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes when he lost by a scant nose on March 6, Crowded Trade finished third in the Grade II Wood Memorial at the Big A on April 3.
Risk Taking won Aqueduct’s Grade III Withers Stakes on Feb. 6, then never threatened and wound up seventh as the 2-1 favorite in the Wood. Brown has talked about how he believes the longer distance of the Preakness than Risk Taking’s previous races should suit him. Risk Taking was scratched from last Saturday’s Grade III Peter Pan Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race around one turn, to run instead in the Preakness.
I think Keepmeinmind is someone to keep in mind as someone capable of getting into the superfecta Saturday. Last in the field of 19 for the initial six furlongs of the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky-bred Laoban colt then came on with a fine run to finish seventh for trainer Robertino Diodoro.
It is true that Keepmeinmind, like Super Stock and Caddo River, was no match for Concert Tour in the Rebel. Keepmeinmind finished sixth in the Arkansas Derby, eight lengths behind Concert Tour.
But in fairness to Keepmeinmind, the Rebel was his 2021 debut after he had missed some training prior to that when Oaklawn was hit by severe winter weather. I think it’s possible for Keepmeinmind to make some noise at Old Hilltop on Saturday.
I also see Rombauer as a candidate to finish fourth or better this Saturday. Trained by Michael McCarthy and based at Santa Anita, the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt won the El Camino Real Derby on synthetic footing Feb. 13 at Golden Gate Fields in his 2021 debut. Rombauer then ran third to Essential Quality and Highly Motivated in Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on dirt April 3.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll consists of the same 10 horses as last week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 310 Mystic Guide (27)
2. 250 Charlatan (5)
3. 187 Knicks Go (1)
4. 184 Colonel Liam
5. 181 Monomoy Girl
6. 138 Gamine
7. 132 Letruska
8. 116 Maxfield (1)
9. 84 Shedaresthedevil
10. 51 Domestic Spending
Medina Spirit’s time atop the NTRA Top 3-Year-old Poll was short-lived. As expected, he moved to No. 1 following his May 1 Kentucky Derby victory. But after the announcement last Sunday that he had not passed his post-race drug testing, he slides to No. 4 this week, replaced in the top spot by Mandaloun, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 277 Mandaloun (6)
2. 275 Essential Quality (8)
3. 250 Hot Rod Charlie
4. 215 Medina Spirit (18)
5. 184 Malathaat (1)
6. 99 Concert Tour
7. 80 Midnight Bourbon
8. 77 Jackie’s Warrior
8. 77 Rock Your World
10. 474 Life Is Good (1)