Daily Racing Form: Improbable Shaping Up As Preakness Program Favorite

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Heavy favorites have been a staple of recent runnings of the Preakness, so the prospect of a mostly fresh slate for the 144th running on May 18 at Pimlico in Baltimore has given at least one insider a glass-half-full outlook.

“At least it looks like a good betting race this year,” said Keith Feustle, who will compose the Pimlico morning line for the second jewel of the Triple Crown for the sixth straight year.

Lacking the first four under-the-wire finishers from the Kentucky Derby last Saturday, the $1.5 million Preakness will have a much different composition than the Derby. Only as many as four Derby horses are expected to wheel back – Improbable, War of Will, Bodexpress, and possibly Win Win Win – while Pimlico racing officials are listing at least seven new shooters in the prospective field. They are Alwaysmining, Anothertwistafate, Bourbon War, Laughing Fox, Owendale, Signalman, and Warrior’s Charge, whom trainer Brad Cox announced as a starter on Thursday.

Maximum Security, disqualified from first and placed 17th in the Derby, won’t run, nor will Country House, who was awarded the victory; Code of Honor, who ran third and was placed second; or Tacitus, who ran fourth and was placed third. This will be the first time since 1951 that the top four Derby finishers have missed the Preakness.

Improbable, placed fourth after finishing fifth as the 4-1 favorite in the Derby, will be the program favorite for the Preakness, probably at 9-5 or 2-1, said Feustle, citing the popularity of trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.

“Then it’ll be War of Will in the 3-1 range,” he said, “and after that, the numbers kind of depend on whether Win Win Win runs.”

Trainer Mike Trombetta said he expected to decide by this weekend whether to run Win Win Win, the ninth-place Derby finisher who returned early this week to Trombetta’s main base at Fair Hill in Maryland.

“There’s a big group that I’ll probably have anywhere from 6-1 to 12-1,” said Feustle. “Maybe Alwaysmining the third choice, but also Anothertwistafate, Bourbon War, and Owendale in there, and Win Win Win, too, if he goes.”

Improbable is one of seven Preakness hopefuls stabled at Churchill Downs. The chestnut colt took an easy jog on Thursday, his first day back to the track after four days of walking. Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s longtime assistant, remained in Louisville to supervise Improbable prior to the colt’s departure for Baltimore next week.

The Preakness had an odds-on favorite in five of the last six runnings, with Always Dreaming (6-5 in 2017) the lone exception.

Warrior’s Charge, owned by Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stables, will be making his stakes debut after easy front-running victories in a March 16 maiden race and an April 12 allowance, both at Oaklawn Park. He becomes Cox’s second starter in the race, along with Owendale. Javier Castellano has the mount.

Asmussen aims for three-peat

Pimlico once again is offering $100,000 in trainer bonuses linked to its Friday and Saturday stakes, but Steve Asmussen said he’s probably a longshot to win the $50,000 top prize for the third straight year.

“I’m a little light this year,” said Asmussen, who has Laughing Fox for the Preakness. “We’re planning to send five or six, and I’d guess that’s not enough.”

Pimlico also will pay $50,000 in trainer bonuses for non-stakes races for the weekend. Each category pays to the top six placings based on a points system.

◗ The Tex Sutton equine charter flights from Kentucky to Maryland will follow a familiar pattern again this year. According to the company website, a plane will leave California early Tuesday, then make a stopover in Lexington, Ky., prior to continuing to Baltimore. A second flight will go Wednesday from Louisville to Baltimore.

◗ Master Fencer, a late-running seventh (elevated to sixth) in the Derby, was scheduled to leave Churchill late Thursday afternoon for Keeneland, where the Japanese colt will train toward the June 8 Belmont Stakes.

◗ Country House remained resting comfortably in the Bill Mott barn at Churchill on Thursday, two days after being declared out of the Preakness when he showed signs of a possible illness. No decision has been announced on travel plans for the Derby winner.

This story originally appeared on DRF.com.

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