BALTIMORE — Last year, Swiss Skydiver became the sixth filly to win the Preakness Stakes, which was held in October because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the 146th running of the race on Saturday will be blanketed with even more intrigue.
Medina Spirit, who won the Kentucky Derby on May 1 to give the trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh victory in the race, was installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, after nearly being excluded from the race when it was disclosed that he had failed a drug test after the Derby.
Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone, a corticosteroid, but officials in Kentucky are awaiting results from a second sample — a process that could take weeks — to determine if his Derby victory will be overturned. It sets up an awkward situation if Medina Spirit were to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Preakness organizers decided on Tuesday that Medina Spirit could run after Baffert and his lawyer agreed to expanded testing and monitoring of all of Baffert’s horses racing at Pimlico Race Course over the weekend. Baffert, saying he did not want to be a distraction, will remain in California and let his longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes saddle his horses.
Coverage of the Preakness began Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern time on NBC Sports Network and will continue on NBC at 5 p.m. Post time is 6:47 p.m.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on the Triple Crown schedule in 2020. The Belmont Stakes, normally the final leg of the Triple Crown, was held in New York in June, the Derby in September, and the Preakness, usually the second of the three races, came in October. None of them admitted spectators. This year, all have returned to their regular spots on the calendar.
Attendance for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on Friday and at the Preakness on Saturday was capped at 10,000 fans each, a figure that includes those in the normally raucous infield. That is a little less than 10 percent of the track’s usual capacity. (The announced crowd for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs last week was 41,472, and for the Derby the next day it was 51,838, close to a third of the venue’s usual capacity.)
The Pimlico grounds are divided into distinct spectator sections, and no crossover is allowed. Temperature checks and questionnaires to assess coronavirus exposure are being administered at the gates, and social distancing signage, plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizing stations will be placed around the track. Despite the latest C.D.C. guidance, masks are required when not eating and drinking, and “Covid compliance officers” are reminding guests to adhere to the policies. Signs along the track promoted Maryland’s vaccine program.
The weather, as it was on Friday, was in the mid-70s and sunny. Vendors passed through the stands selling $15 Black-Eyed Susans that were “guaranteed to improve your luck at the betting window, according to one.
Ellen Charles, a granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, and daughter of Adelaide Close Riggs, a breeder and owner described as “one of the grand dames of Maryland racing,” has been coming to the Preakness since she was a young child. On Saturday, she sat in an owner’s box at the finish line with friends and co-owners.
She said she usually leaves before the Preakness is even run, to avoid the traffic on the way back to Washington, where she lives. But with the limited amount of fans this year, she was considering staying put for the marquee race.
“This is heaven,” she said.
Stories about the infield party at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore are legendary: the coolers of beer, the portable toilet races, the bikini contests, the couches brought in from the streets.
Through the years there have been more and more restrictions put in place to curb extra rowdy — by infield standards — behavior, and this year’s event may be the tamest of them all. Because of the pandemic, attendance was capped at 10,000 people, including in the infield.
The infield concert did go on, however, and 400 pods, which seat between four and eight people, were arranged on the grass separated by metal fencing, resembling tiny jail cells with folding chairs. They were being sold for $200 to $800. Surely those starved for live music did not feel trapped.
2 Chainz and D-Nice were joined on Saturday by Major Lazer, a last-second addition after the rapper Jack Harlow, who was supposed to headline the event, was embroiled in a controversy surrounding his D.J.’s possible role in a shooting at a club in Louisville the night before the Kentucky Derby on May 1. Harlow, who was at the club, was supposed to give the ceremonial rider’s up call at that race but was replaced by the trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Previous acts have included such high-profile musicians as Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Post Malone and ZZ Top.
What was once called InfieldFest is now called Preakness Live, a more grown-up version. The “Kegasus” mascot and bottomless mugs of beer have been thrown out, and now an app run by Pimlico’s owners, 1/ST Racing, conveniently allows concert-goers to order food and bet the races right from their pods.
This was the 11th Preakness for Chris Miller, who lives in Washington. He was sitting in the clubhouse-turned-reserved seats Saturday, but he was still able to enjoy the music.
“After two years away, I appreciate this place even more,” he said.
Coverage of the 146th Preakness Stakes began on NBC Sports Network at 2 p.m. Eastern time and moves to NBC at 5 p.m. Coverage will also be streamed on NBC Sports Live. Post time for the mile and three-sixteenths race is 6:57 p.m.
Here are the morning-line odds, set by Keith Feustle of Pimlico Race Course, for the 10-horse field. Live odds are here. If you’re not at a racetrack, bets can be placed through online wagering sites.
1. Ram (30-1)
2. Keepmeinmind (15-1)
3. Medina Spirit (9-5)
4. Crowded Trade (10-1)
5. Midnight Bourbon (5-1)
6. Rombauer (12-1)
7. France Go de Ina (20-1)
8. Unbridled Honor (15-1)
9. Risk Taking (15-1)
10. Concert Tour (5-2)
The world knows about Medina Spirit by now: the gritty Derby victory, the failed drug test and a long wait to see if the colt would be disqualified. But what about Baffert’s other horse in the Preakness?
Concert Tour was undefeated in three races heading into the Arkansas Derby on April 10. But after he finished a distant third in that race, Baffert decided to have him skip the Derby and focus on the Preakness. The Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has won the Preakness twice, picks up the mount.
Barnes, the Baffert assistant who is in Baltimore, said he was pleased with Concert Tour’s progress.
“He was a little on the light side after the Arkansas Derby, and Bob and Gary West opted to pass on the Derby and run a fresh horse in the Preakness,” Barnes said of the colt’s owners. “We’ve basically seen everything you’d want to see. No hiccups at all. His coat is beautiful. He’s eating well. He should be ready for Saturday.”
The Derby controversy aside, a victory from either Medina Spirit or Concert Tour would give Baffert a record eight victories in the Preakness. He is currently tied with Robert Wyndham Walden, who saddled seven Preakness winners between 1875 and 1888.
If Smith, 55, wins aboard Concert Tour, he will break his own record (set at age 52 in 2018 aboard Justify) as the oldest jockey to win the race. John Velazquez, Medina Spirit’s rider, is 49.
Joe Drape’s win-place-show picks:
Crowded Trade: Here’s your winner. He has improved in each of his three starts.
Risk Taking: This one completes the Chad Brown exacta. Make sure you box it.
Unbridled Honor: Not wild about his closing style, but he can hit the board.
Melissa Hoppert’s picks:
Midnight Bourbon: He was able to muster a sixth-place finish in the Derby despite a troubled trip and has hit the board in seven of eight starts. With the top jockey in North America picking up the mount, he should be a major threat here.
Concert Tour: A third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby convinced his connections to bypass the Derby for the Preakness. With Smith aboard, I’ll take my chances that he can return to his pre-Arkansas form, which included three straight wins, and at least hit the board.
Medina Spirit: Controversy aside, he showed a lot of grit in the Derby when he refused to let his hard-charging rivals pass him, and he has not finished worse than second in six career starts.
Besides Medina Spirit, two other Derby horses — Midnight Bourbon and Keepmeinmind — are racing in the Preakness. In the last 20 years, horses coming from the Derby have won the Preakness 16 times.
Midnight Bourbon was crushed coming out of the gate at Churchill Downs and ran wide around both turns to finish sixth in the Derby. Overall, he has finished in the top three in seven of eight starts. Also working in the colt’s favor: His Derby jockey, Mike Smith, has been replaced with the hottest rider in North America, Irad Ortiz Jr.
The trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the Preakness twice, said Midnight Bourbon had moved “over the racetrack beautifully” since arriving at Pimlico.
The Derby’s seventh-place finisher, Keepmeinmind, is here, too. His trainer, Robertino Diodoro, has entered the Preakness for the first time. So has the colt’s rider, David Cohen, who believes Keepmeinmind’s Derby performance was a springboard to something bigger.
“We were extremely happy with his performance in the Derby,” Cohen said. “I think he finally got back to his 2-year-old form as far as relaxing early on and coming and finishing up with a nice, strong finish that we know he likes to do.”
Besides Concert Tour, the other so-called new shooters are D. Wayne Lukas’s record 45th Preakness starter, Ram; the third-place finisher at the Blue Grass Stakes, Rombauer; the Japanese-based France Go de Ina; the Todd Pletcher-trained Unbridled Honor; and the Chad Brown-trained Risk Taking and Crowded Trade.
Brown, who won his first Preakness in 2017 with Cloud Computing, has entered the two lightly raced but talented colts in hopes of winning his second. Like Cloud Computing, both are owned by Klaravich Stables.
Risk Taking, who has won two of five career starts, does his best running late. He finished a disappointing seventh in the Wood Memorial in April after going off as the 2-1 favorite. Crowded Trade ran third in the Wood.
“Crowded Trade ran a really good race in only his third start,” Brown said. “He did hang a little bit in the lane, but he made up a lot of ground after breaking bad. Risk Taking was quite a disappointment that day. He was coming into the race in excellent form, and his numbers were heading the right way. He just didn’t fire.”
Army Wife, ridden by Joel Rosario and trained by Mike Maker, won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday at a sun-splashed Pimlico Race Course. Attendance was well below the stated capacity of 10,000.
She covered the mile and an eighth in 1:49.63 to defeat Willful Woman by two and three-quarter lengths. She returned $11 on a $2 bet to win.
Rosario will ride the Japan-based France Go de Ina in the Preakness on Saturday.
Beautiful Gift, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by John Velazquez, finished seventh in the Black-Eyed Susan. She was subjected to multiple rounds of drug testing ahead of the race because her stablemate Medina Spirit had failed a test after his Kentucky Derby victory.
Velazquez will be aboard Medina Spirit in the Preakness.
Though a drug violation may upend Medina Spirit’s Triple Crown bid, one of his stablemates in Bob Baffert’s barn, Concert Tour, might end it sooner — by winning the 146th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.
It has happened before: In 1995 Timber Country, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, beat his Derby-winning stablemate, Thunder Gulch.
Saturday will be the seventh time since 1970 that the Derby winner will face a stablemate in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The Baffert-trained American Pharoah, who ultimately became the 2015 Triple Crown champion, had to beat a stablemate, Dortmund, and six others in the Preakness. Last year at the Preakness, Baffert’s Derby winner, Authentic, finished second by a neck to the filly Swiss Skydiver. Authentic’s stablemate Thousand Words was eighth.
“I just give everybody a chance, and that’s the way it goes,” Baffert said this week of Medina Spirit and Concert Tour, adding: “They both might cook each other up on the lead or whatever. You never know what’s going to happen. But they’re both doing well, and I want to give them the opportunity to run.”
In 1995, Lukas cost himself a Triple Crown. After finishing third behind Thunder Gulch at the Preakness, Timber Country turned the tables in the Preakness. When Thunder Gulch won the Belmont Stakes in New York, Lukas had a Triple Crown, but not the one that counts in the record books.
“No, I didn’t regret winning the Preakness in any way, shape or form,” he said. “And I don’t regret it now. I’d do the same thing again.”