War of Will

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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.”

Mike Tirico sorts through chaotic Kentucky Derby with Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey

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Country House’s historic win at the 145th Kentucky Derby sent shock waves around the country and forever impacted horse racing.

The 65-1 long shot crossed the wire second but was declared the winner after Maximum Security, who finished over a length ahead, was disqualified by race stewards for moving out of his lane and impeding several other horses.

Mike Tirico, the host of the 145th Kentucky Derby, invited NBC horse racing analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey onto The Mike Tirico Podcast to sort out all the chaos.

“Think of a five-lane highway,” Tirico explained. “Maximum Security’s in the left lane without a blinker and comes over to the middle lane. Those cars either have to check up really quick, which sometimes causes a crash, or they get bumped or nicked and they crash.”

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey went on to say that there were some potentially unavoidable factors: horses are thousand-pound animals with minds of their own. However, he believes Maximum Security’s jockey Luis Saez reacted quickly, but not quick enough.

As Bailey explained, racing stewards—the rule enforcers—can press the inquiry button to open an investigation into anything they think may have been against the rules. Part of the chaos from Saturday’s race came from the stewards not flagging the incident. The stewards went on to cancel a post-race interview with NBC and didn’t take any questions after holding a press conference about the decision, which is representative of a bigger transparency issue in American horse racing.

Looking beyond the controversy, the three analyzed the run that put underdog Country House just behind Maximum Security. After breaking well and settling in mid-pack, Bailey said the deep closer found himself in prime position to come from behind.

“I was particularly impressed by his maturity and improvement,” he added.

Coming off of three starts in seven weeks, Moss wondered how Country House will run in the Preakness after a short, two-week turnaround. With other top Derby horses passing on the second leg of the Triple Crown, Tirico looked ahead to the possibility of a rematch between Country House, Maximum Security and even early favorite Omaha Beach, who scratched after an entrapped epiglottis impacted his breathing.

‘We’ve had two Triple Crowns in the last four years, and this might be the most talked about Kentucky Derby in 20 years,” Bailey concluded.