Picks by Bill Cloutier
This weekend's races, Saturday, May 17
The Preakness Stakes
Although time doesn't seem to be on California Chrome's side, there is little doubt that the California-bred colt deserves to be the odds-on favorite for Saturday's 139th running of the Preakness Stakes. The morning line chalk of 3-5 (in the field of 10) looks to continue his bid to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. Lightly raced Social Inclusion is the second choice at 5-1.
California Chrome, who earned a Hot List grade of A in the Derby, is our top choice. Despite his dismal time of 2:03.66 (the slowest winning Derby time on a fast track since 1974), we're still pretty high on CC's Triple Crown chances. That's mainly because the rest of the 3-year-old class is a mediocre bunch at best, save for the filly Untapable, whose connections have shown no inclination to run against the boys. Trainer Art Sherman said that California Chrome took an instantaneous liking to the Pimlico surface and quickly regained the 35 pounds he lost in the Derby. "He started jogging as soon as he hit the track," Sherman said. It seems that his pedestrian time in the Derby and the limited rest between the first two jewels of the Triple Crown are his biggest hurdles.
Social Inclusion has no issues with the clockers. He set the track record in a March race at Gulfstream Park and has had over a month off since a solid outing in the Wood Memorial. Fresh horses frequently do well at the Preakness. Social Inclusion's only downside could be a bruised foot that forced him out of a race two weeks ago, and he is our choice for second place. We also believe that Ride On Curlin, who is just one of three Kentucky Derby horses to run back in the Preakness, figures to be in the mix. He's had valid excuses in his past two outings, including all kinds of trouble in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished seventh and seemed to have his best run down the stretch. He is our pick for third place.
General a Rod rounds out the superfecta. He, too, had a troubled trip at Churchill Downs, failing to hit the board for the first time in six career starts.
Hot List Picks
1. California Chrome (A)
2. Social Inclusion
3. Ride On Curlin
4. General a Rod
Last weekend's races
The Man o' War Stakes from Belmont Park
There are horses for courses, and there are trainers with the magic touch, and Imagining comprised both. Even though he went off at odds of 3-1, he surely seemed like the obvious choice in the 1⅜-mile Grade 1 running of the Man o' War on Sunday. He went wire-to-wire to win, giving trainer Shug McGaughey his third straight Man o' War title. It was also the fifth win in eight starts at Belmont for Imagining, who paid $8.50 to his backers. Although appearing to lack a bit of class in the field, Imagining entered the race after earning a Hot List grade of A after his dominant win at Gulfstream in his previous race. On Sunday, in a field reduced to six after France's Lucayan scratched, Imagining posted his first Grade I win as McGaughey continued his dominance of the event. He won the Man o' War with Point of Entry in 2012 and with Boisterous last year. It was the sixth time in Imagining's 16-race career that he was given at least two months' rest between races, and he's won five of those starts, finishing second the other time. Real Solution was second and England's Grandeur was third. Imagining earned a Hot List grade of B for his effort, and he's going to need similar conditions to return to the winner's circle. He is ticketed for the Manhattan. No other horse earned a Hot List recommendation for this race.
Hot List letters
The Ruffian Stakes from Belmont Park
Fiftyshadesofhay captured the Grade 2 Ruffian, rallying down the stretch for a three-quarters length win. The 4-year-old, post-time favorite, ridden by John Velazquez, seemed to be just about finished before kicking it into another gear in the final furlong. Trained by Bob Baffert, Fiftyshadesofhay was content to race fifth through the first half of the race and positioned herself in a good spot around the turn, but seemed to lack the engine to get home until deep in the long Belmont stretch. Grace Hall moved into second place behind My Wandy's Girl, but when Velazquez went to the whip, Fiftyshadesofhay responded, swinging to the outside to put the field away. Grace Hall nosed out My Wandy's Girl for second place, and Six Queens was fourth. We gave the winner a grade of B for her true grit, and with a win in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes under her belt, Fiftyshadesofhay is certainly a force to be reckoned with over the summer. My Wandy's Girl earned a C, dropping from 2-1 to 8-5 in the final three minutes of betting.
Hot List letters
C: My Wandy's Girl
For daily Hot List selections, click here.
Hot List Key
A List: A preferred horse to watch
B List: Secondary horse to watch
*C List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 1st through 3rd
*D List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 4th or worse
* minus-4 or more betting notches if 11-1 or more.
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