Looking To Preakness, Glancing Back At Derby & Oaks Days

The stylish victory by Reddam Racing’s I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands was impressive but has failed chase opponents from the Preakness, the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown that will be run Saturday at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.

As this column was written Tuesday morning, it appeared that around a dozen 3-year-olds would break from the Preakness starting gate, including the Derby winner and five horses that finished behind him on the first Saturday in May.

The most prominent potential roadblocks to I’ll Have Another’s bid to take a successful second step toward becoming the first horse in 34 years to win the elusive Triple Crown all come from the Derby. They include runner-up Bodemeister, fourth-place finisher Went the Day Well and fifth-place runner Creative Cause.

Daddy Nose Best, 10th in the Derby after popularity as a handicapper’s longshot during Derby Week, will also travel to Pimlico to take a shot at winning the middle classic of the America 3-year-old season. And five-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas will give another chance to Optimizer, who was 11th in the Derby.

The Kentucky Derby winner usually earns the role of Preakness favorite off his (or her) exploits in Louisville, but it will be a Preakness surprise if the runner-up is not the people’s choice at post time. Bodemeister’s second-place run for trainer Bob Baffert was a front-running dazzler as he reeled off some of the fastest fractions in Derby history. But the pace took its toll and I’ll Have Another, benefiting from a trouble-free trip under rookie Derby jockey Mario Gutierrez, made a successful first-run at the leader.

While this column was penned before entry-time for the Preakness, a look at its prospective field leaves a strong impression that Bodemeister could well be the race’s lone speed. Absent is a speedy type like Trinniberg, who applied pressure to Bodemeister through the Derby’s opening mile, and that is a significant tactical advantage for Bodemeister in the Triple Crown’s middle jewel.

In that scenario, it could be up to I’ll Have Another, a natural stalker, to take the early fight to Bodemeister rather than allow him to gallop on an easy lead.

An early engagement between the Derby’s top two could set the race up for Creative Cause, whose Derby run might have been a bit better than it looked, and Went the Day Well, who was 17th before launching a furious late rally in the Derby. The latter should be much closer in Saturday’s early going.

The Preakness clearly revolves around Bodemeister, who has been spectacular in back-to-back efforts at the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby. It could be up to the Derby winner to take the early fight to Bodemeister, a move that would be outside of their respective comfort zones.

So make my Baltimore top four: Went the Day Well, Creative Cause, Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another.

While the focus of Derby and Oaks Days is justifiably on the main events, there were plenty of performances other than the Derby win by I’ll Have Another and the Oaks victory by Believe You Can that deserve praises. They include:

Best Performance

Groupie Doll set a seven-furlong track record of 1:20.44 in her runaway victory in the Humana Distaff on Derby Day. She’s the latest star from the Frankfort, Ky.-based team headed by owner-breeder Fred Bradley and son Buff, the 4-year-old filly’s co-owner and trainer, that brought us the beloved millionaire gelding Brass Hat. She finished 7 ¼ lengths in front of Musical Romance, the Eclipse Award filly and mare sprint champion of 2011, and is improving with every start.

Best Comeback

Morton Fink’s Successful Dan won the Grade III Alysheba on Oaks Day, setting a track record for 1 1/16 miles and capping a marvelous training job by Charlie Lopresti.
Successful Dan looked like one of the best older horses in America when he finished first in the 2010 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, and that impression was not diminished when he was disqualified for a bumping incident in the upper stretch. But it would be 16 months before Successful Dan would return to racing after he suffered an injury to his suspensory ligament.

Lopresti, with guidance from internationally-renowned veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage, patiently waited for Successul Dan to come around. He finally returned to racing with an impressive allowance victory on April 6 at Keeneland.

Successful Dan must share the 2012 spotlight in Lopresti’s talent-laden barn with stablemates Wise Dan, who looked like the best horse in America in his victory in Keeneland’s Ben Ali, and grass star Turallure. But the 6-year-old gelding is a special horse and the careful handling by Lopresti and Bramlage has made the 2012 campaign by Successful Dan something to appreciate and savor.

Get Your Top Hat Ready

A win in the Edgewood on Oaks Day by Stephanie’s Kitten – a course record for a mile on turf – should have Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred filly ready for a planned trip to England’s famed Royal Ascot in June for a run in the Group I Coronation Stakes. One of Ken Ramsey’s dreams is to win at that 300-year-old meet, and his traditional Ascot top hat is packed and ready to travel.