One strange Preakness season kicks off… strangely

by | May 7, 2019 | Breaking, Maryland, MD Racing, Opinion, Triple Crown Trail

Alwaysmining might benefit from the Preakness strangeness. Photo by Dottie Miller.

Improbable is probable, but the four horses that crossed the finish line ahead of him in Louisville aren’t, and that makes for one strange Preakness season.

Trainer Bill Mott told the Daily Racing Form Tuesday that Country House is “off the Preakness list,” and the trainer, who’d expressed nothing but reservations about racing in Baltimore, managed a creative rationale: “He’s acting like he’s going to get sick,” Mott said.

Which many of us wish were an excuse a boss would accept.

Regardless, the decision allows Country House, who was 65-1 in the Kentucky Derby, to avoid joining one club – call it the Always Dreaming Club of Derby winners thumped in the Preakness – while placing him in an even more exclusive one.

Country House will be the first Derby winner since Grindstone in 1996 to pass on the Middle Jewel and just the third in the last, oh, bazillion years to do so, joining Spend a Buck and Gato Del Sol.

What’s more, runner-up Code of Honor and show horse Tacitus are also on the “no” list for Baltimore, as is Maximum Security, who crossed the line first before being disqualified to 17th.

In each of the last four years, both the Derby winner and runner-up came to the Preakness, so being without the official winner, unofficial winner, and the other top two finishers is a strange new world in Maryland.

Strange enough, in fact, that the Maryland Jockey Club felt compelled to issue a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“While the connections of Kentucky Derby winner Country House have chosen not to run in this year’s Preakness, the first time since 1996 a Derby winner has not competed in the Preakness, it doesn’t take away from the excitement and thrill of this legendary event,” the statement read, in part. “We anticipate an outstanding group of horses who will race in this year’s Preakness Stakes, and we anticipate there will be more interest from owners and trainers, who have until Wednesday, May 15 to make a final decision on whether to race.”

In other words: Got a decent three-year-old? Send him to Baltimore, hon!

Interestingly enough, while the absence of Country House figures to lessen some of the buzz – no Triple Crown on the line – it’s the defection of Maximum Security that might be most impactful to the race.

Maximum Security, who led throughout in the Derby and, after being swallowed up at the head of the lane, rebroke to earn a two-length win marred by his top-of-the-stretch wandering, was the one horse in this group of sophs who figured to scare off some rivals.

“I do think that Maximum Security is a really good horse, and if he’d kept his path he probably would have [still] won,” said trainer Kenny McPeek, who is preparing Blue Grass Stakes show horse Signalman for the Preakness. “But he’s not going in the Preakness, so that does open it up.”

Among the runners who might find the “opened up” Preakness more congenial now is the Maryland-bred, Maryland-based Alwaysmining, who cleaned up on the Laurel Park stakes en route to this event. The last Maryland-bred to win the Preakness was Deputed Testamony in 1983.

Also likely to appreciate the new-look, no-Maximum Security Preakness: the bettors, who likely will find a big and evenly matched field come May 18.

Of course, this year the Preakness oddity isn’t limited to the race. The MJC also noted in a Tuesday release that it had “worked diligently” to accommodate the 3,100 ticketholders who had been displaced when the company decided to “decommission” the third division, the oldest part of the grandstand.

That’s good news for those ticketholders, though the empty grandstand will, come May 18, serve as a disconcerting visual reminder of the state of the Old Hilltop facility.

Less good news for the fans: the company’s decision to prohibit outside food in the facility, which means you’ll walk farther and wait longer to eat that bland and lukewarm hot dog. This decision, at least, is one the company can – and should – revisit.