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.”

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

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Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.