Trainer Bob Baffert’s chances for a sixth career Preakness victory received a gut punch during Wednesday’s post draw. His top two contenders, American Pharoah and Dortmund, drew the unfortunate and challenging inside post positions for Saturday’s running of the 140th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Still, both contenders are the morning line favorites with the Kentucky Derby winner and Triple Crown threat American Pharoah at 4/5 and Dortmund at 7/2.
Baffert expressed disbelief at the poor luck of the draw but also confidence in his thoroughbreds.
"I can't believe I drew the 1-2 of all draws," Baffert told reporters. "I'm just glad I didn't draw that for the Derby. ... It's a short field, eight horses. He still has to break well. If he's the best horse, we'll find out. I never like the 1 hole; sometimes they don't break as well. But he's drawn the 1 hole before. When I was watching the draw and all these numbers were coming up, I said, 'This is not looking good.' I don't love it. But they'll be easy to watch."
Firing Line’s connections, on the other hand, earned the far more favorable No. 8 post and now the Derby runner-up sits at 4/1 odds.
"That's what we wanted. It definitely gives us options from out there," trainer Simon Callaghan said. "It makes it a little tougher on Pharoah, being on the inside. So that's perfect. It looks like all the (other) speed is on the inside. We'll see how the race unfolds. If that materializes and they go very quick, we can take (back) off the lead. If for some reason, they don't, we can be more forwardly placed."
With two career victories, including the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in March, Firing Line held steady at the top of the Churchill Downs pack and exploded down the home stretch to challenge American Pharoah and came up only one length short the win. Jockey Gary Stevens, who’s claimed the Preakness three times and most recently in 2013 with Oxbow, will man Firing Line.
Recent history shows a Preakness victory from the inside posts is quite difficult. American Pharoah hopes to be the first to win from the No. 1 post since Tabasco Cat in 1994, while Dortmund’s chances appear even harder with Snow Chief the last win from No. 2 back in 1986.
Originally slotted at No. 18 at the Derby starting gate but moving over after several scratches, jockey Victor Espinoza had to work American Pharoah from the outside into the middle of the track, but that allowed him to react to what the 17 other jockeys in the field were doing on the inside. It’s far easier to get trapped inside when the pack forms out of the starting gate and with the shorter 1 3/16-mile Pimlico track Espinoza will have less time to move American Pharoah into position.
A day ago the projected list of contenders was only seven, which would’ve made it the thinnest Preakness field since 1986, but American Pharoah’s Zayat Stables sold 13th place Derby finisher Mr. Z to Calmut Farm on Wednesday and he’s expected to race.
Mr. Z’s lost 12 straight races and now-former owner Ahmed Zayat decided to pull him from the Preakness to avoid breaking his confidence. But the Malibu Moon colt is now under the tutelage of six-time Preakness winner and trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Mr. Z’s listed as a 20/1 longshot, knotted with Bodhisttva, and only Tale of Verve is behind them at 30/1. But despite his losing streak, Mr. Z did show against American Pharoah at the Arkansas Derby last month.
Morning Line Odds from Pimlico
1)American Pharoah 4/5
3)Mr. Z 20/1
4)Danzig Moon 15/1
5)Tale of Verve 30/1
7)Divining Rod 12/1
8)Firing Line 4/1