Midnight Bourbon, Concert Tour are top Preakness challengers

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE — Midnight Bourdon hopes to take a path to the winner’s circle at the Preakness that has successfully been run before – 30 years ago.

Hansel was the horse hyped to win the Kentucky Derby three decades ago but struggled in the first leg of the Triple Crown. He was an afterthought going into the Preakness before winning it.

Hansel’s jockey Jerry Bailey sees similar potential in Midnight Bourbon.

“He had been so consistent – he had never been out of the top three,” Bailey, now an NBC Sports analyst, said of Midnight Bourbon. “He’s the most likely of those type of horses that have always been consistent and wasn’t there in the Derby and now everybody’s writing him off.”

While Derby winner Medina Spirit will likely be the Preakness favorite if drug tests clear him to run, fellow Bob Baffert-trained Concert Tour and typically front-running Midnight Bourbon are the top challengers in Saturday’s race.

Midnight Bourbon was installed on the morning line as the third betting choice at 5-1 behind 9-5 favorite Medina Spirit and 5-2 Concert Tour. The oddsmakers certainly think Midnight Bourbon stands a good chance of handling the 10-horse field in the Preakness better than he did 19 in the Derby, when he finished sixth.

“I’m very confident because of who he is physically,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “He’s very strong physically and his energy level’s been very high since the Derby, so I do think that it’s helpful with him.”

Jockey Mike Smith, who jumped ship to Concert Tour, said Midnight Bourbon stumbled out of the starting gate in the Derby. A cleaner start would allow the colt to better run the race he’s accustomed to from closer to the lead.

If Medina Spirit isn’t scratched for a problem stemming from additional tests agreed to by Baffert’s camp and Maryland racing officials, he’s expected to be on the lead again with stablemate Concert Tour. Bailey pointed out trainers have run multiple horses with different owners in the Preakness before, but this one is more complicated because they have the same running style and could wear each other down.

“The only thing I’d worry about is if they get in each other’s way in a race,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “You’ve got to give them all a fair shot, and the best horse will win.”

A speed duel on the lead could set up well for Chad Brown’s two entries, 10-1 Crowded Trade or 15-1 Risk Taking, Michael McCarthy’s 12-1 Rombauer or Robertino Diodoro’s 15-1 Keepmeinmind, who finished seventh in the Derby.

“On paper I think there’s definitely enough pace, and the smaller field helps,” Diodoro said. “We’re going to stay on the rail as long as we can this time.”

Or Baffert’s horses could run slow enough early to set up something of a match race down the stretch.

“He’s definitely not going to send two (horses to the lead), but at the same time there’s a concern that they could control the pace, his two horses,” Diodoro said. “We’re not going to change our running style.”

Bailey knows that philosophy well from the 1991 Triple Crown, when Hansel finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby after going off as the favorite. That’s why he doesn’t think Midnight Bourbon should be dismissed as a Preakness contender.

But there’s much more talk about Concert Tour, who looks primed to improve on a disappointing third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby on April 10. Barnes said, “Concert Tour didn’t get his chance in the Derby, so this is his chance to shine.”

Rivals around the barn at Pimlico Race Course think so, too. Irad Ortiz will be aboard Midnight Bourbon only because Smith chose Concert Tour instead.

“I would suggest that Mike thought he had a better chance to win on Concert Tour than Midnight Bourbon and that’s why he chose it,” Asmussen said. “Concert Tour’s as fast as you can be. He is obviously a formidable horse.”

Watch the Preakness on Saturday, May 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 5 to 7:15 p.m. ET on NBC. Coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app. 

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.