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Improbable, War of Will among horses to watch in Preakness

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BALTIMORE — Improbable is the early favorite to win the Preakness two weeks after he was favored to win the Kentucky Derby.

Most race fans know how that turned out.

But Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby, isn’t at the Preakness. Neither is Country House, who was declared the Derby winner when Maximum Security was disqualified by stewards for interference.

In fact, none of the first four horses to get to the wire at the Derby will run in the Preakness.

This is the first time the Derby winner isn’t running in the Preakness since 1996, and that means there’s no chance of a horse winning the Triple Crown this year. But the 13-horse Preakness field does feature Improbable, War of Will and a handful of fresh challengers – including last-minute addition Everfast on Wednesday.

If all 13 get to the starting gate Saturday evening, it’ll be the biggest Preakness field since 2009 and one of the most wide-open in recent history.

Here are the horses to watch in the 144th running of the Preakness on Saturday:

IMPROBABLE

The Bob Baffert-trained colt is expected to be the morning line Preakness favorite after going off as the 4-1 first choice in wagering in the Derby. Baffert trained the past two Triple Crown winners, Justify last year and American Pharoah in 2015, and reunites with jockey Mike Smith, who will be aboard Improbable in the Preakness.

The Derby was Improbable’s first time not finishing first or second in his career, and the smart money is on that not happening again.

“I certainly think that we haven’t seen his best race yet, although he showed signs of brilliance at different times,” Smith said, adding he hopes he can “get him to run one of those A-plus races. He’s not without a huge chance of winning the whole thing.”

WAR OF WILL

When 19 horses turned for home at Churchill Downs on May 4, Norm Casse turned to his father, Mark, and said, “You’re going to win the Kentucky Derby.” It wasn’t to be as Maximum Security cut in front of War of Will, forcing him to slow down, and Mark Casse’s horse was placed seventh after the DQ.

Without Maximum Security or Country House in the Preakness, War of Will could be primed to close the gap this time and give Casse his first Triple Crown victory.

“Not a whole lot of things went right for us in the Kentucky Derby and he got beat (by) four lengths,” Casse said. “That speaks volumes. I think in the Preakness, speed usually does a little better, it’s a little shorter (and) he should be extremely tough.”

WIN WIN WIN

A ninth-place showing in the Derby aside, Win Win Win is the best chance for a hometown victory in the Preakness. Trainer Michael Trombetta, who’s based at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, saddled Win Win Win for two victories and a second-place finish at nearby Laurel Park and is entering a horse in the Preakness for just the second time.

The first time was 2006 in the infamous race when Barbaro was pulled up and Trombetta’s Sweetnorthernsaint was second to Bernardini. Win Win Win does have Preakness-winning pedigree in a lineage with Smarty Jones and Sunday Silence.

“He’s been doing well and training well,” Trombetta said. “We’re looking forward to getting back and have a little luck.”

MARKET KING

A lot would have to go right for Market King to win the Preakness, but the same could’ve been said for Country House in the Derby. But 83-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won the Preakness five times and said his horses always seem to run better at Pimlico for whatever reason.

Market King hasn’t run since April 6 and is fresher than some of the other horses in the field. Lukas isn’t sure if his horse can go the 1 3/16 mile but is giving it a shot based on Market King’s recent workouts.

“I think he’s really on his game,” Lukas said of his 44th career Preakness entry. “He needs to step forward. He has to step forward to be competitive.”

WARRIOR’S CHARGE

He’s the biggest wild card in the race because owners decided to pony up $150,000 to get Warrior’s Charge into the Preakness after not being nominated for the Triple Crown. He won two of his first five races and finished third in the other three but has never faced this quality of competition before.

Trainer Brad Cox said he was preparing for a race on the undercard when owners brought up the Preakness. Because it’s so wide open, Cox thinks Warrior’s Charge fits in this crowd.

“His (speed) figures stack up with these horses,” Cox said. “That’s why we’re looking at this. He’s a very nice horse, tons of potential. We’re jumping into the deep end of the pool. But we do think there’s a lot of talent and potential there.”

Preakness winner War of Will likely to run in Belmont

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BALTIMORE (AP) Owner Gary Barber called trainer Mark Casse for the fourth time in 11 hours since War of Will won the Preakness.

Only this time, Casse was in the middle of holding court with reporters the morning after his first Triple Crown victory.

“All’s good and we’re going to the Belmont?” Casse said to Barber with a Cheshire cat grin. “I was kidding. I was making that up.”

Well, not totally.

Assuming all goes well in the coming weeks, Casse said “there’s an extremely good shot” War of Will goes to the Belmont Stakes on June 8 in New York. If he wins, he’d be the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to fall short in the Kentucky Derby before capturing the Preakness and Belmont and would be the front-runner for 3-year-old horse of the year.

“It’s the third leg of the Triple Crown, who doesn’t want to win it?” Casse said Sunday. “There are only three Triple Crown races, and they’re pretty important. I think if you can do it you should do it. …

“That’s what we do. We run.”

Those watching the Preakness saw a horse run the entire race and then some after throwing off his jockey out of the starting gate, a scene that – once it was clear rider John Velazquez was OK – served as a reminder of how much thoroughbreds love to run. Bodexpress provided a memorable spectacle as War of Will fulfilled his potential at Pimlico.

The Belmont is another substantial test for the tough and talented War of Will because it’s a third race in six weeks and is the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1+ miles.

There won’t be a Kentucky Derby rematch with Maximum Security, who was disqualified for interfering with War of Will, or Country House, who was placed first and since been sidelined by illness. And two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert said he probably won’t take Improbable to the Belmont after finishing out of the money in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as the favorite.

But War of Will could have to contend with Derby returners Tacitus, Master Fencer and perhaps Baffert’s Game Winner, along with Preakness surprise second-place finisher Everfast, third-place runner Owendale and ninth-place Signalman. Trainer Bill Mott ruled out Country House but is planning to take Tacitus to the Belmont and figures the gray colt will have no problem in a significantly longer race.

“He should handle it fine,” Mott said by phone Saturday. “My guess was that he’d handle the Derby distance fine, which he did. I was pleased. I think it goes the same for the Belmont. I think it’s within his grasp.”

If the Preakness had more than an extra quarter-mile, closers Everfast and Owendale might’ve put a scare into War of Will on Saturday. Everfast was a late entry by trainer Dale Romans three days before the race and opened at 50-1 but showed he might be a good long-distance runner.

“We almost had it,” Everfast jockey Joel Rosario said. “He ran great. We have a great shot at the Belmont.”

Tacitus, Everfast and Owendale will be strong challengers, but this should be War of Will’s Belmont to lose. Had he not endured such a rough trip in and been interfered with at Churchill Downs on May 4, there could be another wave of Triple Crown talk going on right now about a third winner in five years.

But Casse isn’t thinking about that, still grateful War of Will avoided going down in the Derby and was able to rebound and run well in the Preakness. He’ll monitor the horse back at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, to make sure a sore foot and his energy level are good enough to run in the Belmont on a three-week turnaround.

Casse can’t predict how War of Will responds this time, but he knows what it would mean if the horse comes out on top once again.

“He’s just an athlete,” Casse said. “It would just show that he’s tough and able to overcome things.”

How Bodexpress ran the 2019 Preakness without a jockey

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An already-chaotic Triple Crown season took a surprising turn at the 2019 Preakness Stakes when the No. 9 horse Bodexpress went on a joy ride without his Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

Just two weeks after Maximum Security‘s historic and controversial disqualification in the 145th Kentucky Derby, War of Will, one of the horses most impacted by Maximum Security in the homestretch turn, crossed the wire first at Pimlico to win the 144th Preakness.

But all eyes were on Bodexpress

The moment the bell rang and the gates flew open, the Kentucky-bred colt jumped out and up, unseating Velazquez. The jockey landed on the dirt but got up and walked off the track under his own power.

“He was just not behaving well in the gate,” Velazquez said after the race. “He wasn’t standing well. He got me against a wall in the gate, and when the doors opened, I was kind of off right from the start and he jumped sideways. And I had my feet out of the irons, so I lost my balance and I went off.”

To the delight of viewers around the world, Bodexpress kept running, minus around 100 pounds of human. He kept pace with the pack for some time before falling back.

See the full race replay of the 144th Preakness Stakes

Horses are herd animals and Bodexpress was bred and trained to run, so it was no surprise that he kept going with the pack.

Outriders, the people on horseback around the track who help control the race surroundings, couldn’t chase him down initially because of how close he was to other horses. They tried to grab him as he turned towards the homestretch, but he dodged the attempt by scooting to the middle of the pack.

The 20-1 shot crossed the wire ahead of Market King, but his trip didn’t end there. He zoomed past horses as they were pulling up and ran an entire extra lap. When all was said and done, he was a little sweaty but in good health.

Stewards briefly flashed the inquiry sign because of his horseplay, but they quickly released it and named War of Will the official winner. Bodexpress was given last placed and named “did not finish.”

Trained by Gustavo Delgado, Bodexpress was a late entry into the Kentucky Derby after morning line favorite Omaha Beach scratched. The 71-1 longshot finished 14th at Churchill and was elevated to 13th. He has never won a race, with or without a jockey.

“I’m good,” Velazquez said. “I’m just disappointed.”

See Larry Collmus, voice of the Triple Crown, call the 144th Preakness