Preakness Day has finally arrived, with 14 races to choose from on Saturday at Pimlico and a stellar Rainbow 6 sequence that begins in Race 8 with the James W. Murphy. Our in-house handicapper has taken a close look at the sequence and provided detailed analysis of each leg, and he's additionally made picks for the entire card.
If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country on Saturday, be sure to check out our Free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.
The Rainbow 6 kicks off with the James W. Murphy led by Outadore (#2), the third-place finisher from last year’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland. I don’t doubt that Outadore is the best horse in this race, however based on his 2021 comeback at Turfway Park I’m not sure he’s progressed at all from 2 to 3, and after fading late in the 2020 Juvenile Turf it remains to be seen whether he truly wants to go two turns. I respect him, but at a very short price I’d like to take a couple shots against.
Charles Chrome (#7) is a horse I was very high on last weekend in the 5 ½-furlong William Walker at Churchill Downs, but his connections opted to scratch him out of the spot, possibly due to the soft turf course at Churchill. Regardless of their reason, I believe this horse has a lot of ability on turf, as evidenced by a pair of strong sprint efforts at Indiana Grand last year, and he’s unquestionably bred to relish more ground. If he shows up ready to run in his 3-year-old debut, I believe he has what it takes to spring the upset.
He’s a bit of a tougher read, but I’m also going to throw in Arzak (#6) as a ‘main’ play. This horse doesn’t look like he belongs with this group, however I think he’s quietly demonstrated some serious talent to go along with his blazing early speed. You can completely disregard his start two back at Gulfstream when he ran off early and set a ludicrous pace, and prior to that he was an impressive winner at Tampa Bay Downs under Daniel Centeno. I like that Centeno is taking the call here since he was able to get this horse to settle at Tampa, and I have a feeling he could be set for improvement in Maryland for trainer Mike Trombetta, who does his best work on this circuit.
Main: 2,6,7 Backup (priority): 8
Order of preference: 7-6-2-8
Race 9 (Skipat)
The undefeated Chub Wagon (#5) takes another small hike up the class ladder as she contests the Skipat. This Pennsylvania-bred filly clearly has a ton of ability, however I’m not sure her past couple races are as strong as they appear on paper, and her blazing early speed may be put to the test by Don’tletsweetfoolya (#6), as well as Never Enough Time (#4). Ordinarily I don’t like to bank on a speed duel materializing, as they so rarely do, but it feels like it might be inevitable in this spot, which is seriously going to compromise the chances of Chub Wagon at a very short price. Luckily, a bit of pace is exactly what my top pick needs.
Casual (#2) began her career in sensational fashion, rattling off two straight victories with identical 90 Beyer Speed Figures. While she didn’t progress from there the way her connections might’ve hoped, she did find new life over the winter at Oaklawn Park, where she’s also been way up against it from a dynamics perspective in her last two starts. Her last outing in particular is much better than it looks, in my opinion, as she got zero pace to run at in the aptly-named Carousel at Oaklawn yet still nearly reeled in Edgeway and Frank’s Rockette, either of whom would be favored in this race. I don’t think just looking at the running line from the Carousel does her justice as she was far back early and absolutely flying late, though she didn’t have much chance to make a serious dent in the margin. This time around she’s almost assured an honest pace in front of her, and I’m expecting her to pass them all in the stretch.
I’d also take the ascendant French Empire (#8) very seriously in this spot. I don’t think it’s fair to expect her to improve in her first start with trainer Brad Cox considering what a terrific meet Cipriano Contreras had at Oaklawn, but her last two races put her in the mix and like Casual she’s going to get an ideal setup.
Main: 2 Backup (priority): 5,6,8
Order of preference: 2-8-5-6
Race 10 (Jim McKay Turf Sprint)
I’m not looking to play against your likely favorites in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, but I do have a slight preference for the local horse Completed Pass (#13). This guy is a very salty turf sprinter and has a more adaptable running style than his main rivals, who could be compromised by a projected rapid pace, which is going to give him plenty of options from his wide post. With not much separating him from others like The Critical Way (#4) and Hollis (#5) in terms of speed figures, I think his tactical advantage and affinity for this turf course could carry the day.
I am elevating Completed Pass a tad higher than The Critical Way and Hollis, but these two certainly have a big chance in this race. The former is coming off a very strong effort in the G2 Shakertown at Keeneland, in which he battled through enervating early splits and hung in well to finish third behind two of the top turf sprinters in the country. Hollis was a disappointment in that same race, but he may not have been himself that day as he was forced to run without Lasix. He actually won this race last year and has already rebounded with a gritty win on the main track at Oaklawn Park, so I’m working under the assumption that he’ll be ready to fire his best shot. If one of these two speedballs cedes the early lead to the other, the pacesetter could prove tough to run down.
Main: 13 Backup (priority): 4,5
Order of preference: 13-4-5-2
Race 11 (G3 Maryland Sprint)
If one race was to ruin your day on Saturday at Pimlico, it’s probably going to be the G3 Maryland Sprint. Under normal circumstances I’d say Laki (#1) has a leg up on the competition as a salty local sprinter, but he won’t have the luxury of running with Lasix here, and the last time he was without Lasix it resulted in an uncharacteristically dull try in the G3 General George at Laurel Park this past winter. He can obviously win this race, but I think he’s going to be a much shorter price than his 6-1 morning-line odds and I’m skeptical we’re going to see the best version of him.
I really think you can build a case for just about every runner in this 11-horse field, but the two I’m most interested in from a value standpoint are Yodel E. A. Who (#2) and Frosted Grace (#4). Yodel E. A. Who has really exceeded my expectations since being claimed by trainer Brittany Russell on January 10 at Gulfstream Park. Russell’s numbers at Gulfstream aren’t stellar, yet this horse won first off-the-claim for her and then came back with a strong run last out at Belmont Park, another venue that hasn’t been hospitable to her. Yodel E. A. Who did get a good trip in that race at Belmont, however the rail may not have been the place to be that day and he closed well on the inside. Given the lack of quality in this G3, it was an effort that puts him in the mix, and I’m expecting an even better performance out of him on the Maryland circuit, where Russell absolutely dominates. If he gets enough pace to attack he should be motoring late at a square price.
If I like Yodel E. A. Who, then I’m almost obligated to also like Frosted Grace, who finished ahead of my top pick in the Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream. None of Frosted Grace’s races are going to blow you away, but he’s quietly been running some strong races since re-adding blinkers four starts ago, and I think his last race at Gulfstream is better than it looks as he contested a fast pace and came up just short going seven furlongs. He should really appreciate cutting back to six panels and is listed at a juicy 15-1 on the morning line.
Finally, I’m also going to incorporate both horses coming out of the G3, seven-furlong Commonwealth at Keeneland, Mucho (#3) and Special Reserve (#8), who should benefit from the turnback in distance they’re getting. My interest lies more with Special Reserve since he ran the better race in the Commonwealth, but both of these horses could be live as the race was flattered when Flagstaff came back to win the G1 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
Main: 1,2,3,4,8 Backup (priority): 5,7,10,11
Order of preference: 2-4-8-1
Race 12 (G2 Dinner Party)
Sacred Life (#5) is the horse to beat in the G2 Dinner Party, but despite what the toteboard might tell you, he’s no superstar. He’s coming off an imposing 101 Beyer Speed Figure in his seasonal debut in the G1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland, however he got a very good trip in that race and may not be able to replicate such a strong effort in this spot. I’ll be using him begrudgingly because I do think he’s a perfectly logical winner, though he’s likely to be a pretty substantial underlay.
As a matter of price, I prefer both Somelikeithotbrown (#1) and English Bee (#2) to the favorite. The former was well beaten by Sacred Life in the Maker’s Mark Mile, but he was the victim of a three-way battle for the lead that wrecked his chances. He doesn’t always show up with his ‘A’ effort, however at his best I know he’s capable of winning this race and if he’s allowed to set a comfortable pace he’s going to be very dangerous.
English Bee, meanwhile, is more of a leap of faith as he makes his 2021 debut, but nonetheless he’s my top pick in this race. I really thought this horse turned a corner as a 4-year-old last year, and for much of the year that was indeed the case until things took a turn for the worse at Keeneland in his final start of the campaign. He’s since got a nice freshening and has been working steadily for his comeback at Fair Hill for trainer Graham Motion, who I’m expecting to have a big weekend. I also love the rider change to Joel Rosario, who should have him rolling from the back of the pack. English Bee is guaranteed to get some pace to run at due to the presence of Somelikeithotbrown, and together I think these two make a potent one-two value punch.
Main: 1,2,5 Backup: 8
Order of preference: 2-1-5-8
Race 13 (G1 Preakness)
I wish I had something more to creative to say in the G1 Preakness, but I’m not going to be playing against your controversial favorite Medina Spirit (#3), as anyone who followed my thoughts leading up to the Kentucky Derby knows that I love this horse. The contrarian in me wants to play against him as the heavy favorite, however my gut tells me that the trace amount of betamethasone found in his system following his victory in the Derby didn’t enhance his performance to any notable degree, and his trainer Bob Baffert has a history of horses running well after such infractions. With all the other heavy hitters skipping this race in favor of the Belmont, it makes it that much harder to pick against him, and at this point I just can’t bring myself to do so.
Medina Spirit’s stablemate Concert Tour (#10) is a surprisingly close second choice on the morning line, though I’ve never been a big fan of this guy. For a while it looked as though he might be Bob Baffert’s best hope in the Derby, but he didn’t even end up making the race following a disappointing third-place finish in the G1 Arkansas Derby. I know he’s better than what he showed in that race, however he was exposed a bit in the Arkansas Derby against inferior competition and it’s a tall order for him to just snap back with the race of his life in this spot, particularly given the fact he may not truly want to go this far. It’s not exactly a vintage field that’s lined up for the Preakness, but I have a hard time picking him over his stablemate at this distance, while I will acknowledge that he’s among the contenders.
The main challenger I see to the Derby winner is Midnight Bourbon (#5). He finished a well-beaten sixth in the Derby, 8 ¼ lengths behind Medina Spirit, but I don’t think he ran as poorly as that margin suggests. He was essentially eliminated at the start when he broke well but was shuffled back to midpack, many lengths off the loose leader. For a horse with his kind of forwardly-placed running style, that early trouble spelled doom for his chances of winning, though he still mustered a decent rally and showed some signs of life in the stretch. All things being equal I don’t know that he’s in the same league as Medina Spirit, but if that one regresses I believe Midnight Bourbon is well-positioned to take advantage of it.
Rounding out my top four selections is Crowded Trade (#4), who got his career started a little late to be a factor in the Derby but finds himself in a good spot here for the same connections that won this race in 2017 with Cloud Computing. The trouble with him, however, is that after a sensational first two starts he took a big step back last out in the G2 Wood Memorial, which marked his first start around two turns. That ostensible lack of stamina is not going to play well at this 1 3/16-mile distance, and it’s especially worrisome given the dearth of quality in this year’s Wood. Despite that, I can’t resist the upside Crowded Trade possesses and it really wouldn’t take much for him to hit the board in this race.