February 5, 2023

Preakness analysis: Triple Crown newcomer appealing at Pimlico

Art Collector
Art Collector notched his first stakes win in the Blue Grass Stakes (Coady Photography)

The pace scenario promises to be interesting in Saturday’s $1 million Preakness (G1). With Art Collector, Swiss Skydiver, and Thousand Words breaking to the inside of Authentic, more speed will be present than in the Kentucky Derby.

Authentic gave Bob Baffert his record-equaling sixth Kentucky Derby victory when leading wire-to-wire at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5. He courageously turned back the bid of runner-up Tiz the Law in upper stretch to score easily by 1 1/4 lengths in the end, but Authentic wasn’t pressed in the early stages.

The front-running son of Into Mischief sped forward to a clear advantage from the starting gate and had his way on the front end, registering only a 90 Brisnet E1 Pace rating (low for the Kentucky Derby) while unchallenged most of the way.

Authentic could sit close and prove best on Saturday – Baffert-trained War Emblem dominated the 2002 Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire before tracking the pace in second in his Preakness win – but I will tab a fresh challenger in the final race of the 2020 Triple Crown.

#3 Art Collector was forced to skip the Kentucky Derby due to a minor foot issue but did not miss any serious training time. He established himself as major Derby contender with a superb win in his first dirt stakes, the July 11 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland, stalking up close before drawing off in deep stretch, and registered a 104 Brisnet Speed rating for the 3 1/2-length decision. However, that left an eight-week gap to the Kentucky Derby.

Connections opted to run back in the Aug. 9 Ellis Park Derby, where Art Collector rolled wire-to-wire, and the Bernardini colt gained additional seasoning. But I was suspicious of the three-week turnaround into the Kentucky Derby off of two big races.

Missing the Kentucky Derby may be a blessing in disguise. Art Collector has logged three additional workouts since then, posting fast moves while “well within himself” according to trainer Tommy Drury Jr. A convincing winner in all four starts this year, with the century-topping Speed figures in the last three, Art Collector will enter the Preakness off a seven-week rest, the same time period Authentic utilized from his last prep, the July 18 Haskell (G1), to the Kentucky Derby.

Brian Hernandez Jr. will have a decision to make from the gate. Art Collector has the tactical speed to make his own trip, and Hernandez will either send or look to establish positioning from just off the pacesetter. He looks ready for a career-best in the Preakness.

Art Collector is my top selection, and I will key following two runners underneath in any vertical wagers:

#9 Authentic has broken better in his last two starts, and I won’t be surprised to see him on the early lead. But he may have to work to do or risk get carried wide from his outside post. Baffert trained him hard for the Derby, which was such an improvement from a desperate nose win in the Haskell, and Authentic is a candidate to regress at least slightly. I still respect his chances.

#8 Max Player doesn’t like to be stuck inside behind horses, and I thought he ran well to be fifth from post 1 in the Kentucky Derby. Third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1), the dark bay son of Honor Code must improve to challenge for the win, but Max Player may receive the right setup from a favorable outside draw.

Good luck playing the Preakness!