The historic 144th Preakness Stakes takes center stage Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Improbable for trainer Bob Baffert is the probable public choice in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. (Image: USA Today Sports)

A highly competitive, full field of 13 three-year-olds is heading postward and, perhaps, at least for this day, might curtail the seemingly unending controversy that continues to engulf the 2019 Kentucky Derby. 2019 marks the first time since 2011 the Preakness has had this many entrants.

The Preakness cast includes 13 runners seeking to capture the middle jewel of racing’s much-revered Triple Crown and the historic recognition that accompanies a win. The full field is clearly a product of the fact that the top four Kentucky Derby finishers before the disqualification, Maximum Security, Country House, Code of Honor and Tacitus are skipping the race.

It’s the first time since 1951 that none of the top four Derby finishers are represented in the Preakness.

Preakness Stakes Opening Odds

(by post position)

      1. War of Will – 4/1
      2. Bourbon War – 12/1
      3. Warrior’s Charge – 12/1
      4. Improbable – 5/2
      5. Owendale – 10/1
      6. Market King – 30/1
      7. Alwaysmining – 8/1
      8. Signalman – 30/1
      9. Bodexpress – 20/1
      10. Everfast – 50/1
      11. Laughing Fox – 25/1
      12. Anothertwistafate – 20/1
      13. Win Win Win – 50/1

Expecting Contentious Renewal

The packed Preakness has handicappers forecasting one of the most competitive and best wagering renewals in recent years of this important race.

The morning linemaker is projecting Bob Baffert’s Improbable at 5/2 as the Preakness wagering favorite. He’s the fifth place Kentucky Derby finisher and the only one of the silver-haired conditioner’s trio of Derby contenders – Game Winner and Roadster are the others – who will make the race.

Improbable, breaking out of gate stall four, reunites with jockey Mike Smith. Known as “Big Money Mike,” Smith chose Omaha Beach as his Derby mount. That horse was scratched because of a breathing issue.  Smith ended up riding Cutting Humor to a 10th place finish at Churchill Downs.

War of Will, the horse most heavily impacted by Maximum Security’s failure to keep a straight path in the Kentucky Derby, as he did at Churchill Downs breaks from post position one. He’ll be again under jockey Tyler Gaffalione and enter the gate at projected odds of 4/1 in the 1 3/16 mile classic. That’s a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Mark Casse continues to be unusually effusive in his praise for his son of leading grass sire War Front. This, despite War of Will faltering in the Louisiana Derby after winning two early prep races at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Handicapping Puzzle Awaits

Astute handicappers wisely looking beyond these two are finding a diverse field jammed with contenders in a race anyone can win.

Among them are Anothertwistafate, at 6/1 on the morning line. The West Coast interloper was most recently second in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland; Owendale, at 10/1, is the speedy Lexington Stakes victor; and local contender Alwaysmining at 8/1 is the winner of six straight just up the road at Laurel Park.

Then there’s top trainer Steve Asmussen’s 20/1 long shot Laughing Fox. He’s the May 4 winner of the Oaklawn Invitational. Win Win Win at 15/1 and Bodexpress at 20/1 lead another contingent of contenders that, after showing Kentucky Derby winning potential earlier in the year, then, for a variety of reasons, faltered on the big day at Churchill Downs.

Not of small importance to the Preakness winning owners — beyond the winner’s portion of the $1.5 million added purse — is the most valuable trophy in US sports, the Woodlawn Vase.

The winning owners receive a $40,000 vase replica because the trophy is regarded as “priceless.” That’s the official appraisal by Tiffany and Company of New York, the original Woodlawn Vase creator in 1860. The original trophy is kept at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but brought to Pimlico yearly under heavy military guard for a symbolic presentation to the winning connections.

Kentucky Derby DQ Dispute Heads to Court

Shortly after Saturday’s “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans,” the eye-pleasing yellow and black flower associated with the Preakness in the manner roses are associated with the Kentucky Derby, horse racing fans, bettors and industry stakeholders are expected to resume parsing in microscopic detail the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security. He’s the horse first under the finish line on May 4, but then soon afterwards placed 17th  by officials.

Late Tuesday, owners Gary and Mary West filed a federal lawsuit seeking to restore Maximum Security’s first under-the-wire finish. Trainer Jason Servis and the Wests removed the horse from Preakness consideration soon after the Kentucky Derby. Servis says the horse is in fine health and awaiting other races. Jockey Luis Saez, earlier this week, received a 15-day suspension for his Derby ride. He is not named on any horse in the Preakness.

The eventual Kentucky Derby winner, 65/1 bomber Country House, began suffering cold-like symptoms after the race. That’s why he’s s not in the Preakness field. He’s out of consideration for the Belmont Stakes on June 8, as well, according to his conditioner, Bill Mott.

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