The absence of the Kentucky Derby winner doesn’t mean you should ignore Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Even without the Cinderella story that is Rich Strike, the Preakness is still a Grade 1 race with a strong field and plenty of intrigue.
Five reasons you should tune in for the 7:01 post time on NBC:
1. D. Wayne Lukas and Secret Oath
The 86-year-old Lukas is vying for his seventh Preakness win, which would tie him with Bob Baffert (1997-2018) and R. Wyndham Walden (1875-88). This time the legendary trainer is trying to do so with a filly. Secret Oath would be only the sixth girl to beat the boys in the Preakness, but the second in the past three years, joining Swiss Skydiver who accomplished the feat in 2020.
Secret Oath is more than capable. She beat a strong field to win the Kentucky Oaks on May 6. In her only try against the guys, she ran third in the Arkansas Derby last month. She’s improved since that effort.
And there’s this: Three of the last five Preakness winners did not run in the Derby — Cloud Computing in 2017, Swiss Skydiver in 2020 and Rombauer in 2021.
The Louisiana Derby winner did everything at Churchill Downs on May 7 except award trainer Steve Asmussen his first Derby win. Sitting in perfect position off a torrid pace, Epicenter assumed the lead in the stretch and held off Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon only to be blindsided by Rich Strike at the wire.
Asmussen has won the Preakness twice — 2007 with Curlin, 2009 with Rachel Alexandra — and will saddle the formidable 6-5 favorite on Saturday. One question: Does Epicenter have enough left in the tank after such a grueling Derby effort?
3. John Velazquez
The Hall of Fame jockey has won the Kentucky Derby three times (2011, 2017, 2020) and the Belmont Stakes twice (2007, 2012). He’s had no such luck in the Preakness, however. That could change Saturday as the 50-year-old picks up the mount on the underrated Simplification.
Trained by Antonio Sano, Simplification suffered a wide trip in the Derby yet still finished fourth. According to Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, if you look at the distance traveled by each colt, only Rich Strike had a higher rate of feet per second than did Simplification in the Kentucky Derby.
The son of Not This Time did draw the unpopular No. 1 post Saturday. He also ran third in the Florida Derby after winning the Fountain of Youth. With Velazquez in the saddle, however, Simplification may have what it takes to pull the second upset on the Triple Crown trail.
4. Chad Brown/Klaravich Stables
The duo of trainer Chad Brown and owner Seth Klarman teamed up to win the 2017 Preakness with Cloud Computing, who had skipped the Derby. Now Brown/Klarman are looking for a repeat with Early Voting, who skipped the Derby after losing by a neck to Mo Donegal in the Wood Memorial.
In fact, Early Voting is just a neck away from being 3-for-3 in his career. And Klarman has had good luck in Baltimore, where the billionaire became infatuated with horse racing as a young boy who grew up a few blocks from Pimlico.
5. Kenny McPeek
After coming up empty in the Kentucky Derby, the Lexington-based trainer has entered Creative Minister in hopes of earning his second Preakness win to go along with Swiss Skydiver’s victory in 2020.
Unraced at age 2, Creative Minister finished second in his debut March 5 at Gulfstream, then broke his maiden on April 9 at Keeneland. He punched his ticket to Baltimore with an impressive win in an allowance race at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
Another note: Should it rain Saturday, keep an eye on Creative Minister and Skippylongstocking. Creative Minister won on a sloppy track at Keeneland. Skippylongstocking’s sire, 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator, boasted a history of big victories on off tracks.