Positives and Negatives for Animal Kingdom’s Chances to Win Preakness

Animal Kingdom, who rocketed to a victory in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, might be subject to the dreaded “bounce” that afflicted last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, in the Preakness Stakes.  Although the Graham Motion trainee, based on most speed ratings, goes into the Preakness with a huge edge over his rivals, the Team Valor International owned runner may have peaked on May 7 and could find it desperately hard to produce the winning move that led him to victory in the Run for the Roses.

Besides simply being too tired to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Animal Kingdom may be up against it pace wise on Saturday as well.  Races at Pimlico are usually run at a much quicker clip than races at Churchill Downs.  The track in Maryland often times favors front-runners and although Animal Kingdom’s jockey, John Velasquez, put the horse closer to the Kentucky Derby pace than many realize, the son of Leroidesanimaux was only 2 ¾ lengths behind the Derby pace at the second call, the front-runners could have an edge in the Preakness on Saturday.  Fourth place Derby finisher Shackleford, Todd Pletcher’s Dance City, the second place finisher in the Arkansas Derby, and the Richard Dutrow trained Flashpoint, figure to be hot footing it up front and lengthening the distance between them and the closers at least to the ¾ mile pole.

Behind Shackleford, Dance City, and Flashpoint will be a bevy of tough pressers led by third place Derby finisher Mucho Macho Man and the Steve Asmussen trained Astrology.  Astrology, a son of A.P. Indy and a Quiet American mare, might be sitting on the race of his life.  The Brisnet speed ratings that I use show that Animal Kingdom went from a 97 in his Spiral Stakes victory to a 105 in the Kentucky Derby.  Is it that difficult to believe that Astrology can take a huge step up from the 98 he produced in his second place finish in the Jerome Handicap to a stunning triple-digit speed figure in the Preakness? 

There are some things about Animal Kingdom that are in the horse’s corner, however.  First and foremost is the fact that the Derby winner will be running in only his sixth lifetime race.  There’s plenty of reason to believe that Animal Kingdom could actually improve off of the stunning Run for the Roses victory.  Second, Animal Kingdom was incredibly quick, actually running on the pace, in his maiden victory.  That sort of ability, to run on the pace if need be, gives jockey John Velasquez plenty of options on May 21.  Finally, Animal Kingdom has history on his side.  Big Brown in 2008, Afleet Alex in 2005, Smarty Jones in 2004, Funny Cide in 2003 and War Emblem in 2002 all won the Preakness Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby only two weeks prior.  That’s five Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes winners out of the past nine years.

The biggest reason to like Animal Kingdom to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday might actually have more to do with simple talent than anything else.  Animal Kingdom doesn’t face the toughest set of Triple Crown runners that thoroughbred racing has produced.  In 2007, Preakness Stakes winner Curlin took on the ultra-tough Hard Spun and BC Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in his Preakness victory.  There isn’t a single horse in the 136th Preakness that comes close to being as talented as Hard Spun or Street Sense, besides perhaps Animal Kingdom.  Maybe, Animal Kingdom bounces and still wins the Preakness Stakes on May 21 because he’s just better than his competition.