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TrackNotes: The Spirit Of The Preakness

Did you hear the news?

They're running the 147th Preakness on Saturday, as chocolate-dipped in tradition as any race in America. It's Grade I, three-year-olds, 1-3/16th miles, a $1,000,000 purse.

This edition provides more intrigue than the May 1 Kentucky Derby did both before and after, I'm serious. Especially if you consider Bob Baffert basically fixed the Derby.

A few of these Preakness horses intentionally skipped the Derby for this, and there are a couple wanna-sees who could have a breakout here. Unfortunately, both of Baffert's horses figure strongly in this one. How bad is it that his horses are victimized and sullied by the humans?

Only three Derby runners will be at Pimlico on Saturday: Keepmeinmind, Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon. Medina' is the morning line favorite, but as of this writing, Midnight Bourbon is the 5-2 favorite with Medina' at 3-1.

Just in, Baffert's horses have cleared rigorous drug tests.

In post position order.

1. Ram (Morning line odds 30-1, jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., trainer D. Wayne Lukas)

At 85, Lukas just keeps going, with his best days behind him. So what? But this one will not be wearing the black-eyed susans blanket afterwards. This son of American Pharoah has never run in a stakes race at any level and his Beyer Speed figures, while improving only lately, are not nearly enough. Pass.

2. Keepmeinmind (15-1, David Cohen, Robertino Diodoro)

He was an improving seventh in the Derby. He hasn't won since the Kentucky Jockey Club as a two-year-old and was a bad fifth in the Blue Grass two back. He hasn't proven he's a Grade II or Grade I horse, not at all. There are just enough better horses in this race to keep him out of the money.

3. Medina Spirit (9-5, John Velazquez, Bob Baffert)

Your Kentucky Derby first place finisher has had the universe explode around him. Thankfully, he's a horse, so he doesn't read the papers or watch Fox News, we think on that last one. Everything being equal, he's a solid contender here, but what is equal anymore with Baffert? Baffert's horses at Pimlico have undergone relentless testing, even into late Friday afternoon. There are two ways to look at Medina in this race. He might still be benefiting from the steroid administered to him, even though it hasn't proved detectable in the hours before this race. If he can cope with what might be a quick pace, he's a strong go. Johnny V. knows what to do. OR, with the drugs out of his system, he might come back down to earth and bounce, big. He had a 102 Beyer in the Derby, but his level is more in the mid-90s. See what Bob did? I figure a combo, even perhaps with Baffert not wanting him to win. He's too talented to be out of the money. The big Water Buffalo is hanging back in California and won't be at Pimlico this weekend.

4. Crowded Trade (10-1, Javier Castellano, Chad Brown)

This one is taking on wiseguy trappings. Chad Brown kept him out of the Derby after a middling third in the Wood Memorial, which was a setback after a tough beat in the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct. Your angle is Brown having him ready after a nice gap between races, which is as real as it gets. Castellano will help. 10-1 seems right, but he might be lower. You may not be able to toss him, which is why they call it gambling.

5. Midnight Bourbon (5-1, Irad Ortiz Jr., Steve Asmussen)

Everybody expects this son of Tiznow to break out in this race. That remains to be seen. He had a bad start and was squeezed in the Derby, and ancient Mike Smith felt bad and kept him wide the rest of the race, as he will do. 'Bourbon flashed up to sixth. Ortiz up is a huge factor for this horse, figuring to be a game-changer. However, he hasn't won since the Lecomte, the prep for a prep for the Louisiana Derby, and he's only won twice overall. His Beyers have plateaued in the mid 90s. 5-1 might be my bottom for him, but he's already taking money and might be no better than half that and the favorite. Again, you have to include him, but invite others into your tickets.

6. Rombauer (12-1, Flavien Prat, Michael McCarthy)

We've kind of been waiting to see this one here. Why? I don't know. While potentially the Rom-Bomber, it can't happen at that price. The 12-1 is an anticipation line. His claim to fame is the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate two back. No, I didn't see it either. He had a troubled start and finished third in the Blue Grass. He's a couple points shy of even a 90 Beyer. He shows a tendency to close, so if the pace suicides up front, he has a Baltimore chance, whatever that is. Prat is a plus. Watch the tote. I'll be including him.

7. France Go de Ina (20-1, Joel Rosario, Hideyuld Mori)

France is in his name, but Japan is his game.They say this son of Will Take Charge oozes distance. He had a bad start in the UAE Derby in Dubai on World Cup Day. In two straight wins at Hanshin, he drew off cleanly, which shows his love of distance. He had a bad start under Rosario in Dubai, but Joel didn't do anything crazy to get him back in that mix. But that March 27 race was his last one and he's only raced four times. It's possible that once he blows out the carburetors by the backstretch, he might get faster as the race goes on. Then, watch out at Belmont.

8. Unbridled Honor (15-1, Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher)

Pletcher was named to the Hall of Fame this week. As camera-ready as Baffert is - although the media bears a large responsibility for that - Pletcher is a quiet protege of D. Wayne Lukas - once a groom at Arlington - who has done wonders with two-year-olds and got over the hump in the more glamorous races in the past decade. He's won two Derbies, his first with Super Saver in 2010. He won the 2007 Belmont with the fabulous filly Rags to Riches. He's never won the Preakness. This colt with the mishmash name pops out at you with an 18-point Beyer improvement to 91 in the Grade III Lexington April 10 at Keeneland. Horseplayers will notice he did that in the slop, but Pletcher/Saez means we don't hold that against him. His only win is a maiden special weight, but he shows he can close, which figures to be an ace in his mane in this race. Win? Probably not. But delectable in the exotics. Please don't tell anybody and hope his morning line resembles his actual price.

9. Risk Taking (15-1, Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown)

There's a lot to dislike here. I don't think you can give him a mulligan for his fading seventh in the Wood Memorial. He's never hit a 90 Beyer and regressed by 12 Beyer points in the Wood. He beat nobody in the Withers, but dove into the deep end in the Wood. Same here.

10. Concert Tour (5-2, Mike Smith, Bob Baffert)

Considered Baffert's more talented horse in this race, this son of Street Sense basically bombed in the Arkansas Derby on April 10 at Oaklawn. Despite Super Stock and Caddo River trading haymakers on the front in a hot pace, Concert Tour could not take advantage and those two still beat him, in that order. He kind of kept up with that pace but got nothing for his effort. That's not good. If he repeats that here, which is possible, it's deja vu. He'll have to bide some time and Smith is going to have to downshift and take it. At a better Beyer than his top 94. That's a turn of foot we would be talking about Sunday.

Your flat screen focus will be on the Preakness Prep undercard, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. NBCSN. The main event starts at 4 p.m. on NBC 5. Preakness post time is 5:47 p.m.

About Baffert
A few more thoughts on this Baffert stuff.

While it appears to coverage consumers that the lead trainers whisper to every horse in their barn, that's impossible. But the trainers will never disabuse you of that notion.

Nevertheless, Baffert should know the ins and outs of every medication, legal or not, and the laws in every state. I'm sure he does. The ointment excuse stinks because that would not do the horse any good in his running. It needed to be injected into the joint. Ask me and I'll tell you, I've been there. The point is the running. Nothing else.

As far as I know, Baffert has never advocated for medication control, the advancement of knowledge, or cooperation across the game to rid the sport of substances that, in many ways, can't be good for a horse. All he has ever done is bitch about it when he got caught. He showed little or no remorse in the death of the seven horses. He appears to have little or no control over the operations of his barn. It starts at the top, as always. If they doped Medina Spirit, and all the others, Baffert knew about it, condoned it, cultured it and approved it. He probably timed the betamethasone to the tick of the clock of 14 days. Oops.

Don't get me wrong. There are therapies, and medications, that really help a horse. The thing with Baffert is that he gets some of the most regally bred, pedigreed horses in the world. Now, we really don't know how good of a trainer he is or ever was. That's not a good legacy. It's not a legacy at all.

You'd have to analyze the man, but did he just become an out-of-control typhoon who got too big to take down? He got in deep, but he had a unique power to put on the brakes. And who determined he was too big to fail? Did NBC and the flaccid racing press believe that they have to have Baffert or else there's no appeal? It's like Dancing With the Stars fixing it every year to let him win because the disco ball bounces off his white hair so cool. "People LOVE it!"

Give me a D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Shug McGaughey, Larry Jones, Mike Maker, Graham Motion, Wesley Ward, Bill Mott, Wayne Catalano, Aidan O'Brien the greatest trainer in the world actively without dope.

It is for the very reason that Baffert is, and was, encouraged and allowed to become an otherworldly plaster statue in horse racing that he be punished, evidence allowing, in the most severe way. And that would be to truly take the game away from him for some significant amount of time. He reaped the benefits of his actions in a most outsized way and must pay a commensurate penalty.

OK, he got caught with Medina Spirit. But his record of skulduggery, avalanching as the years have gone on, demands such a sentence.

It would shake Thoroughbred horse racing to its core, which the game needs. Hopefully, it would get horse owners(!), track owners, state racing authorities, prominent trainers, jockeys, online betting platforms and, dammit, include the fans, off their sorry asses to get their shit together. If the track and turf are clearly equal for everyone, it doesn't matter. Put the game back on the backs of the horses.

Horses and fans. Fans never forget horses. But we've both been left behind.

In NBC Sports' Court
The ideals we hold so dear here at The Beachwood Reporter will be put to a monumental test this weekend in one place and on one platform: NBC Sports.

The entire broadcast crew that we see will, in my opinion, be required to comment and, I hope, harshly condemn what is Bob Baffert.

In my mind, while Randy Moss is certainly capable of learned discussion, this falls squarely on the shoulders of Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey. He has nothing to lose. He's Jerry Effing Bailey. He understands being in the saddle on a horse that isn't what it appears to be.

You be the judge. I will be in the recap.

Mayne Event
When I saw Kenny Mayne got canned from ESPN this week, it brought back fond memories.

I have barely ever watched ESPN, but they had great horse racing coverage back in the day. Mayne seemed a legit horseplayer and joked easily about the roller coaster of winning and losing wagers. He always commented on the wiseguy horses. He seemed to have the attitude of "We can talk about it all day, but what are you going to DO (wagering)?!"

Jeanine Edwards both loved the horses and was razor sharp on the game. Hank Goldberg was the avuncular, terrible handicapper that Mayne hated to love, but loved in the end.

Horse racing has bounced around the airwaves. The glory days of Jack Whitaker and Heywood Hale Broun in the Secretariat era on CBS. Jim McKay, who has a race named for him tomorrow at Pimlico, was a rock on ABC. These guys on NBC now? Not so much. But the NBC women on air are their strong point.

Those were the days.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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