Why Alwaysmining should be viewed as a serious Preakness player

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Alwaysmining, the runaway 11 ½-length winner of the $125,0000 Federico Tesio Stakes on April 20 at Laurel Park., drew the No. 7 post position for the 2019 Preakness Stakes.

Riding a six-race winning streak into the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, Alwaysmining will attempt on Saturday to become the first Maryland-bred to win the Preakness Stakessince Deputed Testamony in 1983. In a year in which none of the official top three from the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve nor the horse who crossed the finish line first and was disqualified will move on to the Preakness, Alwaysmining has a golden opportunity to end the 35-year drought for Maryland-breds.

Ability: Winless in three starts in Kentucky to begin his career, all in races at 5 ½ furlongs or less, Alwaysmining established himself as a racehorse when he moved to Maryland. He won his fourth career start at Laurel Park by 4 ½ lengths before back-to-back unplaced finishes, one of which came in his lone start on grass in the Laurel Futurity on Sept. 22, 2018. Since that race, which was his first start for new trainer Kelly Rubley, Alwaysmining has not lost a race.

Alwaysmining won an allowance race by 10 lengths on a sloppy track on Oct. 27 and then closed his 2-year-old season with clear wins in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity and Heft Stakes at Laurel Park in December, earning a new career-best 96 Equibase Speed Figure for the former before smashing that with a 107 for the Heft. Alwaysmining defeated by 1 ½ lengths in the Heft previously unbeaten favorite Win Win Win, a future stakes winner who qualified for this year’s Kentucky Derby via a runner-up finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Seven weeks later, Alwaysmining made his 3-year-old debut in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel and led every step of the way en route to a 4 ¼-length victory. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time in the Private Terms Stakes on March 16 at Laurel, Alwaysmining powered to a front-running 6 ¾-length romp that earned his a new career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure as well as an eye-catching 95 Beyer Speed Figure. His final five-sixteenths of a mile in 29.99 seconds in the Private Terms was reason for optimism.

Rather than test Alwaysmining on the Kentucky Derby trail, his connections opted to target the Preakness and entered him in the local prep race, the Federico Tesio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, and he won by 11 ½ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.

He took a small step back in terms of speed figures in the Tesio, earning a 104 from Equibase and a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, but he did rate comfortably in third through a half-mile in that race and also showed he could stretch out to 1 1/8 miles.

The Preakness at 1 3/16 miles will be a sixteenth of a mile longer, but based upon his final three-eighths of a mile in 37.15 seconds and final eighth of a mile in 12.47 seconds, Alwaysmining should be able to handle the distance.

Running style: After leading from start to finish in his previous five victories, Alwaysmining went back to the tactics he employed in his maiden win and rated off the pace in the Tesio. He did so quite comfortably while racing about three to four lengths off a leisurely pace. Most impressively, when was given his cue by jockey Daniel Centeno, Alwaysmining shifted gears and made a powerful move entering the final turn to open a clear lead at the top of the stretch. Despite expending energy to take command, he still had enough stamina in reserve to finish very well. That was no doubt due in part to the slow early pace, but it’s also promising to see a 3-year-old capable of multiple moves in a race.

Tactical speed has been key in recent editions of the Preakness with four front-running winners in the last 11 editions, and only two of the last 11 winners and four of the last 17 winners more than 3 ¼ lengths back after the first quarter-mile.

Connections: Runnymede Racing is the Thoroughbred racing operation of Greg and Caroline Bentley, whose farm is near Coatesville, Pa. BloodHorse wrote a nice feature on the couple, who started out racing steeplechase horses as a hobby but became hooked on flat racing after a jumper named Hardest Core win the 2014 Arlington Million. They have since been active purchasing mares at auction and breed their own racehorses.

BloodHorse also wrote a terrific profile of Kelly Rubley, who trains for Runnymede and is based out of Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. A lifelong horse lover, Rubley joined up in 2009 with Barclay Tagg, best known as the trainer of dual classic winner Funny Cide, and became his top assistant. She subsequently served as an assistant for Jimmy Toner before venturing out on her own in 2014. Her lone graded stakes winner to date is Divisidero.

Daniel Centeno picked up the mount on Alwaysmining to start his current six-race winning streak and has been aboard for each of those victories. A six-time leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs and two-time winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, Centeno will be riding in the Preakness for the first time and seeking the first Grade 1 win of his career. He has won 2,805 races since taking out his jockey’s license in 1996.

Pedigree: Alwaysmining is from the third crop of 2011 Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini. Stay Thirsty ranked in the top 10 among third-crop sires in 2018 and topped the sire list in California.

Stay Thirsty was a winner from three-quarters of a mile to 1 ¼ miles and finished second by three-quarters of a length in the 2011 Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles.

In addition to several Southern Hemisphere Group 1 winners, Stay Thirsty is the sire of Grade 1 winner Mind Control and 2019 Godolphin Mile winner Coal Front, the latter a winner of seven of nine starts who has earned more than $1.6 million.

The bottom half of Alwaysmining’s pedigree is anchored by his fourth dam (maternal great-great grandmother), Cequillo, by Princequillo, who produced four stakes winners and is responsible for 2000 Belmont Stakes winner Commendable, Grade 1 winners and notable sires Fappiano, Ogygian, Quiet American, and Honour and Glory, and champion sprinter Dr. Patches as well as many other notable Grade or Group 1 winners.

While much of the class is deeper in the bottom half of this pedigree, there are reasons for optimism as his dam (mother), What Will Be, by Anees, placed in 14 of 33 starts with four victories, including one at 1 1/8 miles. His grandam (maternal grandmother), Che Sara Sara, by Golden Act, also was a winner at 1 1/8 miles and twice ran second in stakes at 1 1/16 miles. His third dam(maternal great-grandmother) is Tartan Farms homebred stakes producer Consequential, by Hall of Famer Dr. Fager. I don’t typically delve this deep into pedigrees for this feature, but there is some serious back class in the pedigree and that could come into play in what is a huge class test for Alwaysmining in the Preakness.

I think we have a chance to see a true breakout performance in the Preakness from a racehorse who is in impeccable form. Alwaysmining is very fast, he has tactical speed, he’s versatile, and he’s facing a field that is missing the first four to cross the finish line in the Kentucky Derby. I respect Grade 1 winner Improbable and multiple graded stakes winner War of Will as well as several of the other new shooters, but Alwaysmining is my pick to win the Preakness.

Watch the 2019 Preakness Stakes only on NBC and NBCSN. Coverage on NBCSN begins Friday, May 17 at 3 p.m. ET with the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and continues on Saturday May 18 at 2 p.m. before moving to NBC at 5 p.m. Post time is set for approximately 6:50 p.m. See the full broadcast schedule here.

Maximum Security wins Haskell, survives inquiry

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Maximum Security captured the $1 million Haskell Invitational and, unlike the Kentucky Derby, survived a steward’s inquiry Saturday night.

It capped a long day that included a major delay triggered by intense heat and the safety concerns for the horses and riders. It led to the cancellation of six races and the delay in six stakes, including the Haskell, the biggest race in Monmouth’s meet.

When racing resumed around 6 p.m., the stakes went off without a hitch until the Haskell.

Maximum Security got to the finish line first, outlasting trainer Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto by 1 1/4 lengths.

For a minute, it seemed a clear-cut win in the Grade I race. However, the stewards posted the inquiry sign. Videotape replays showed King for a Day had to check when Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto stormed past.

However, it was quickly dismissed, unlike the Derby when there was a 22-minute delay before Country House was elevated to the top spot and Maximum Security was dropped to 17th place. It was the first time a horse that crossed the finish line first in the Derby was disqualified.

Owners Gary and Mary West are still trying to overturn that decision in federal court in Kentucky.

This was one of the most bizarre days in the 52-year history of the Haskell and it was just another weird twist in the 3-year-old thoroughbred picture which has had one strange turn after another.

There was the Kentucky Derby disqualification. A riderless horse in the Preakness. Three different winners of the Triple Crown races.

The latest turn came Saturday as the extreme temperature and a heat index value reaching 107- caused track officials to a order a 4 1/2-hour delay after the running of the first two races on the 14-race card.

The Haskell went off at 8:11 p.m., 2 hours, 24 minutes after its scheduled start. The field was reduced to six horses when third-place Belmont States finisher Joevia scratch after the delay.

The 1 1/8-mile race was outstanding. King for a Day, who beat Maximum Security in the Pegasus here last month, and the four of the other five colts were closely bunched for the early going with only Everfast trailing.

Around the far turn, Maximum Security and jockey Luis Saez and Mucho Gusto and rider Joe Talamo charged around King for a Day, who was on the rail.

Maximum Security was in the middle lane with Mucho Gusto on the outside. As they turned for home, Maximum Security seemed to put King for a Day and jockey John Velazquez in tight quarters. The only question was whether King for a Day committed a foul or King for a Day ran out of room as he tried to charge up the rail.

There was no change this time. The Jason Servis-trained Maximum Security covered the distance in 1:47.56 and paid $3.60, $2.60 and $2.20.

Mucho Gusto returned $3.40 and $2.80. Spun To Run finished third and paid $5.60 to show.

For the second straight day, the National Weather Service posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index values reached 107. It dipped to 103 by the time racing resumed.

Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.

“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.

None of the horses who competed in the eight races run showed any sign of injury.

Drazin said he had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. The governor left the final decision on whether to run to Drazin. He opted for caution in delaying the card, fearing harm to the horses and industry if there were a death.

With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course.

“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”

A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell, and another big crowd was expected Saturday for Monmouth Park’s biggest racing day. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits. The track announced an attendance of 25,173 but many left before the big races.

Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking. The track canceled its card planned for Sunday.

NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time, but it ended up streaming the race live on its digital platform.

Midnight Bisou won her fifth straight stakes this year, capturing the $150,000 Molly Pitcher with Mike Smith riding.

In other stakes, Just Howard edged Divisidero by a head in the $150,000 Oceanport; Justaholic ($5) won the $75,000 Wolf Hill; War Story ($16) took the $200,000 Monmouth Cup and I’m So Fancy ($5.80) captured the $150,000 WinStar Matchmaker.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Whitney Stakes from Saratoga Springs on August 3. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Monmouth racing card shaken amid fierce heat, track protests

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — With extreme heat draining fans and causing concern about the horses, Monmouth Park canceled six races and pushed back until early evening its stakes races, including the $1 million Haskell Invitational headlined by Maximum Security.

The decision came after the start of the first race was delayed and the racing card was re-evaluated after the second race.

The National Weather Service again posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index values reached 107.

Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.

“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.

Drazin said he had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who left the decision on whether to race to Drazin. He went with caution, fearing harm to the horses and industry if there were a death.

With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course and Finger Lakes in New York and Laurel Park in Maryland.

“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”

A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell, and another big crowd was expected Saturday for Monmouth Park’s biggest racing day. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits.

Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking.

In addition to the Haskell, the card’s other stakes races are The Oceanport, The Molly Pitcher, The Wolf Hill, The Monmouth Cup and the Matchmaker.

NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time. Monmouth spokesman Tom Luicci said the network planned to fill its 5-6 p.m. slot with other horse-racing covering. It was going to stream the race live on its digital platform at 8:05 p.m., he said.

The start of the first race was delayed by almost 40 minutes, with no reason given at the time for the move. The 14-race card was reassessed after the next race. The six stakes races were reset for 6 p.m., with the Haskell at 8:05 p.m.

Maximum Security, who finished first in the Kentucky Derby and then was disqualified, leads the field of seven in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.

The first two races went off without incident. The horses were hosed down on the track after the races. There were misting fans in the paddock before the races.