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If a horse race — repeat, a horse race — can be said to reflect anything like what we call “conventional wisdom,” then the $1.5-million 2022 Preakness is that race, and the low odds on top favorite Epicenter is the numerical equivalent of the thinking. Mind you, this is two blisteringly short weeks after the tougher, longer and altogether revolutionary 2022 Kentucky Derby, in which exactly zero “conventional wisdom” could be found as the today’s Preakness favorite Epicenter got blazed in the last furlong by the 80-1 longshot phenom Rich Strike.
Hence today’s race-day question has a slightly different slant: Is the 147th running of the Preakness really Epicenter’s to lose? Rich Strike is twiddling his thumbs until the Belmont, Derby show horse Zandon’s connections have made other things for him to do this afternoon, so the race does stand a decent chance of mirroring the bookmakers’ buzzy hivemind.
But if you ask the the Oaks-victor Secret Oath’s connections, specifically the filly’s 86-year-old Hall of Fame legend D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Preakness six times, the 147th running will be anything but the odds favorite’s cake walk. The super-crusty old-school hard man, who still mounts up to monitor his stable’s performances at 7 every morning, told the Daily Racing Form last week:
“Filly, colt, government mule, I don’t care. I’m here to win the thing.”
That’s the spirit. We’ll bring the Bluegrass Wise Man in to assess Mr. Lukas and the other favorites’ and their trainers in a bit, but first, a refresher on the odds. NOTE: We will update these with live odds in this space after Pimlico opens this morning, and will update until post time.
Post position, horse, trainer, jockey, odds
1. Simplification, Antonio Sano, John Velazquez, 6-1
2. Creative Minister, Kenny McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr., 10-1
3. Fenwick, Kevin McKathan, Florent Geroux , 50-1
4. Secret Oath, D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Saez, 9-2
5. Early Voting, Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz, 7-2
6. Happy Jack, Doug O’Neill, Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1
7. Armagnac, Tim Yakteen, Irad Oritz Jr., 12-1
8. Epicenter, Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario, 6-5
9. Skippylongstocking, Saffie Joseph Jr., Junior Alvarado, 20-1
(Source: Pimlico, May 21, 2022)
With no further ado, here’s the Bluegrass Wise Man ™ with his characteristic horse sense, on the prospects and the best bets for the 2022 Preakness.
Let’s drill down on D. Wayne and Secret Oath. We hit her early in the week, but the chatter is so loud that you’d still think they were first.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Got to like her. Got to like D. Wayne even more. Obviously, he’s eighty-six and counting, and his barn’s had its ups and downs lately, but he’s won the race a half-dozen times. That is an enormous number of Preakness wins. So, first, he’s not doing this for his vanity. Race takes too much out of you, your athlete and your team. D. Wayne’s doing it because he thinks he’s got a shot. I think he does too, but now, to the horse. She ran great in the Oaks, but she carries some questions, the main one of which is, if you look at the Oaks in terms of who she ran against and beat, there just is, or was, nothing in the Oaks of Epicenter caliber. Point of fact, there’s also no horse in her career who she beat that is of that quality. There just isn’t, okay? So, she’s gonna hafta come up a notch or three today to take this race. Given the field, use her in a trifecta or an exacta? Dang right. Be dumb not to.
Let’s say you’re a trainer and you want to run down Epicenter. What are his weaknesses that you now, right now, train to exploit.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: He’s gonna want to lay back a little, which isn’t exactly a weakness, more just his style. But you can exploit that and simply work to be in a better position. If he gets any sort of pace in front of him he’ll want to move with it and you simply have to move quicker and be faster than he does. Sometimes, a right smart execution of tactics, rather than say outright speed or endurance, can bring you a win. Partly, for that, you rely on a really smart jockey, and the difficulty for Chad Brown, who’s got Early Voting, or Tim Yakteen with Armagnac, or even Antonio Sano with Simplification is that Steve Asmussen has Joel Rosario up on Epicenter. And he’s smart.
Not that the others aren’t.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Certainly true. Irad Ortiz, who’s on Armagnac, is brilliant, and can make a lot happen with Armagnac, who’s kinda languishing in the middle of the pack, favorites-wise. But the other good jocks are spread all through this race. Ortiz is on Early Voting, and he can make it happen. Saez has already proven his great connection to Secret Oath in the Oaks, and if anybody can help Secret Oath take that big step up, he can.
So, jockey’s race?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Every race is a jockey’s race, but you’re right, this one especially so.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: