Handicapping The 2021 Preakness Stakes Undercard
By Noel Michaels
Preakness Day is back to the third Saturday in May, and a big betting day is in the making starting off with the opening race – the Sir Barton Stakes – and building up to the $1 million Preakness (G1).
The 14-race card at Pimlico Race Course is packed with 10 stakes race, including the $100,000 UAE President Cup – a Grade 1 contest for Arabian horses – as the final race of the day.
While the focus will be on the Preakness, a field of 10 featuring Kentucky Derby winner (for now) Medina Spirit, there are plenty of ways to make some money before the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Let’s get started:
$250,000 Dinner Party (G2), 1 1/16 miles, turf, 3 & up (race 12)
The pre-Preakness feature is a race formerly known as the Dixie. A solid eight-horse field has been entered with few, if any, toss outs. The worthy morning-line favorite is #5 Sacred Life (7-5) trained by Chad Brown with Javier Castellano aboard. He comes in off a seasonal debut third-place finish behind Raging Bull and Ride a Comet in a tough spot in Keeneland’s Maker’s Mark Mile (G1). Earned a career-best speed figure and faces easier competition so he’s difficult to ignore. This won’t be an easy task at low odds, however, as Sacred Life seeks what would be his first graded stakes win, so why not take a shot to beat him with your win bets?
The horse that can knock-off Sacred Life at a better price looks like #1 Somelikeithotbrown (4-1) for trainer Mike Maker with Jose Ortiz picking up the mount. This New York bred has earned speed figures that eclipse the rest of this field in a career that includes a Grade 2 win at this distance on turf in the Bernard Baruch in wire-to-wire fashion last year at Saratoga. He was also runner-up in this race last year. His most recent outing wasn’t his best when needing a race off a four-month layoff in the Maker’s Mark Mile, but he should be ready to roll
Several horses have a shot to make a dent at good odds, so if you want to potentially bump up the value of your exotics, you could do a lot worse than #8 Bye Melvin (10-1) with John Velazquez aboard for Graham Motion. He got nipped in his comeback race off a six-month layoff last time out by #4 Midnight Tea Time (10-1), who was already in mid-season form. Bye Melvin is set to improve and already rarely runs a bad race, including a win in last year’s Saranac (G3) at Saratoga and a tough-luck nose loss at Pimlico last fall in the James W. Murphy. Draws outside again, but not as far out in the parking lot as he has been in his recent races.
The play: Bet the upset with #1 Somelikeithotbrown to win, and box him in the exactas and trifectas with #5 Sacred Life and #8 Bye Melvin.
$150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3), 6 furlongs, 3 & up (race 11)
#11 Seven Nation Army (5-1) has been in good form since last summer, with the only blemish on his in-the-money record coming two races ago when he lost his best chance at the start with a bad break in a loss to #5 Strike Power (7-2) at Oaklawn. Picks up Luis Saez, comes off a good win after overcoming early trouble, and may slip through the cracks a bit on the tote board. Strike Power owns fast speed figures and is also no slouch for trainer Steve Asmussen. Yes, he finished fourth in his last race in the Count Fleet (G3) at Oaklawn, but there’s no shame in that loss which came against an extremely strong field that included 1-2-3 finishers CZ Rocket, Whitmore, and Empire of Gold. Against this field, Strike Power will have a much better chance. Another with a solid chance is #1 Laki (6-1), the only horse in the race with a win over the track – and he’s done it twice. Exits a last-out victory in the Frank Whiteley Stakes and won the DeFrancis Dash (G3) at Pimlico last fall. Finished third in this winter’s General George (G3) at Laurel and owns 24 in-the-money finishes with 11 wins in 33 career starts.
The play: Bet #1 Laki and play exacta and trifecta boxes along with #5 Strike Power and #11 Seven Nation Army.
$100,000 Skipat 6 furlongs, 3 & up fillies & mares, (race 9)
There were few horses in better form at the recently concluded Oaklawn meet as #8 French Empire (3-1), who’s the horse to beat in this eight-horse field. Despite her winning exploits in 2021, French Empire is not favored on the morning line and looms as a can’t pass-up betting opportunity. Comes into this on a four-race win streak, all at this distance, including tough spots at both Turfway Park and Oaklawn, and no horse even gotten close to beating her in those races. Transfers to the high-percentage barn of Brad Cox and picks up Javier Castellano for the mount, and figures to get a tremendous stalking trip behind a contested pace. One of the horses likely to be involved in that contested pace is the morning-line favorite, #5 Chub Wagon (8-5), who will be quite a handful based on her 5-for-5 record with impressive wins in every race, mostly at Parx (once at Aqueduct). Her wins also included a Pennsylvania-bred stakes victory last time out and her speed figures stack-up against any of these. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won aboard her at Aqueduct, is back for the ride. This will be a sharp step up in competition, however, and if she is going to handle it, she will need to fend off other early speed in this race and she will do so at low odds.
The play: Bet #8 French Empire to win and play a chalky saver exacta box along with #5 Chub Wagon.
$150,000 Gallorette (G3), 1 1/16 miles, turf, 3 & up fillies & mares (race 6)
A six-horse field but nonetheless a fascinating handicapping quandy with the seasonal return of #5 Mean Mary (6-5) after six-month layoff. Mean Mary won a trio of graded stakes in 2020, but all were at longer distances and she may not be primed yet for her top effort. If there’s a day to bet against her, this is it. Instead, go ahead and take a shot on #3 Flighty Lady (4-1), who did what she was supposed to last time when winning her North American debut for trainer Chad Brown. She seems ready to move forward her second time around. She was multiple Group placed in France and the sky is the limit for her for this barn with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
The play: Go for the mild upset and bet #3 Flighty Lady to win. Back it up with an exacta box along with #5 Mean Mary.
The rest of the undercard stakes:
$100,000 Sir Barton, 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds (race 1): Bet #4 Hozier (2-5), trained by Bob Baffert.
$200,000 Chick Lang (G3), 6 furlongs, 3-year-olds (race 3): Bet #4 Jaxon Traveler (4-5) and an exacta box w/ #6 Willy Boi (3-1).
$100,000 J.W. Murphy, 1 mile, turf, 3-year-olds (race 8): Bet #2 Outadore (7-5).
$100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint, 5 furlongs, 3 & up (race 10): Bet #4 The Critical Way (5-2) and box exactas and trifectas with #5 Hollis (6-1) and #13 Completed Pass (7-2).
$100,000 UAE President Cup (G1), 1 1/16 miles, Arabians 4 & up, (race 14): Bet #3 Uptown Sandy Girl A (4-1).