BALTIMORE — The Preakness Stakes, perhaps more than the other two Triple Crown races, produces results that stand up to long-term scrutiny.
Not since Red Bullet in 2000 has a Preakness winner failed to win either another graded stakes or earn a championship before their career reached its conclusion.
With a strong core of Kentucky Derby runners including race victor I'll Have Another returning for Saturday's 137th running of the 13⁄16-mile classic at Pimlico Race Course, it again appears unlikely this year's Preakness winner will go down as a fluke.
One thing that is certain, however, is at least one horse considered capable of being a divisional leader heading into the race is going to be regrouping by Sunday morning.
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For the first time since 2007, the 1-2 finishers in the Kentucky Derby are both back in the Preakness Stakes with I'll Have Another and morning-line favorite Bodemeister heading up an 11-horse lineup that features six holdovers from the first Saturday in May.
Though some question whether the best horse always wins the Derby given the variables that figure into that race, the Preakness is usually where the top sophomores separate themselves. Last year's winner Shackleford — who recently took the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes — was the first Preakness winner since the aforementioned Red Bullet not to win an Eclipse Award.
On paper, the two best horses going to post Saturday are I'll Have Another and Bodemeister — the Derby winner who seemingly has no end to his stamina and the front-runner who nearly defied conventional wisdom on how far and fast he could go on May 5.
Among those hoping to break up that two-horse showdown Saturday are Went the Day Well and Grade I winner Creative Cause, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the Derby, respectively. The other two Derby holdovers are Daddy Nose Best and Optimizer.
Considering there have been just three Preakness Stakes winners since Gate Dancer's victory in 1984 who did not contest the Kentucky Derby, it stands to reason the five new shooters in Saturday's field have more than a lack of form working against them.
"I don't know the new shooters but there are four horses coming out of the Derby who will all be tough," said Mike Harrington, trainer of Creative Cause, who had never been out of the money in eight starts prior to his Derby run. "Will any of the others beat them? I don't know. I wouldn't think so but that's why they run horse races."
As was the case leading up to the Derby, the pace scenario for the Preakness has been all the chatter with Bodemeister again expected to show the way around the oval. The lightly raced son of Empire Maker has such an effortless cruising speed, rating him is almost not an option for his Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith.
What Smith and trainer Bob Baffert are hoping for, instead, is that Bodemeister can catch enough of a breather up front to make his speed hold up over the final furlong. That was not the case on Derby Day when Trinniberg pushed the colt through fractions of :22.32 and :45.39, leading to him being caught in the lane by I'll Have Another.
"I don't look for them to let me go around there, that's not what we're really looking for," Smith said. "This horse is extremely talented. I think he can win, without a doubt and impressively as well. If he gets his chance and he runs his race, he's that kind of horse."
Freakish as it is, Bodemeister's ability has been one-dimensional thus far in his five-race career. I'll Have Another, by contrast, has already displayed the versatility to sit off the pace if needed or push the issue up front if no one else will.
Though the Derby takes a toll on all its runners, one would not know it by the way I'll Have Another has appeared to gain strength in each of his gallops since the race.
"I think he's progressing," trainer Doug O'Neill said of the son of Flower Alley. "I think he looks as good if not better than in Kentucky."
How much, if any, Bodemeister and I'll Have Another regress off their huge runs two weeks ago will also go a long way toward determining if any of their nine challengers can best them Saturday.
If these colts truly are two of the best members of their generation, no outside forces will prevent that from coming through.
"Bodemeister is trying to put three really good (races) back to back and if he can do that, and the other horse (I'll Have Another) can put four back to back, it's going to be formful," said Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who will saddle long shot Optimizer as he attempts to win a record sixth Preakness. "They're the best horses on past performances.
"This is where the cream starts rising to the top. You should start to get some form on these horses if they're championship quality. If you're a champion, you do it every day, every time, every place.