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.

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