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Horse racing | Preakness Stakes

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit could be vulnerable at the Preakness Stakes

John Velazquez, riding Medina Spirit (far right) to victory at the Kentucky Derby, could encounter a crowded field of contenders at the Preakness Stakes, including Essential Quality with jockey Luis Saez aboard (far left).
John Velazquez, riding Medina Spirit (far right) to victory at the Kentucky Derby, could encounter a crowded field of contenders at the Preakness Stakes, including Essential Quality with jockey Luis Saez aboard (far left).Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Jockey John Velazquez and the dark bay colt Medina Spirit delivered trainer Bob Baffert his record-setting seventh Kentucky Derby victory two weeks ago, and then set their sights on the second jewel of the Triple Crown. But their path to the Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course wasn’t without controversy.

Medina Spirit's Derby win is in jeopardy after Baffert's announcement Sunday that test results revealed the horse had the steroid betamethasone in his system. Baffert and the Maryland Racing Commission reached an agreement allowing his two horses to participate in Saturday's race, but the trainer himself said he will to skip the weekend events at Pimlico to avoid being a distraction.

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Bettors can tune out the controversy. Even without the pall of the horse's failed drug test, you're better off fading Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes.

Medina Spirit sprinted to the front as expected during the Derby; the surprise was that there weren't other horses challenging him for the lead, allowing him to set the pace and keep the other contenders at bay.

Just how much of a perfect trip did Velazquez and Medina Spirit get at Churchill Downs? If you account for the distance traveled, Medina Spirit was only the fifth-fastest horse in the field, traveling 54.9 feet per second. Essential Quality, traveling 68 feet further than Medina Spirit due to a wide trip, was the fastest at 55.4 feet per second. Looked at a different way, if you granted Essential Quality the same trip Medina Spirit had, the Derby favorite would have won the race by nearly five lengths.

Could Medina Spirit pull off a win in the Preakness Stakes this weekend?
Could Medina Spirit pull off a win in the Preakness Stakes this weekend?Julio Cortez/Associated Press

And so, instead of Medina Spirit, focus your wagers on stablemate Concert Tour, which didn't enter the Derby, and Winchell Thoroughbreds's Midnight Bourbon, which finished sixth.

Concert Tour is the only horse in the race besides Medina Spirit that has two graded stakes wins on his resume; neither was tainted by a failed drug test despite his tutelage under Baffert. He also likes to keep in close contact with the leaders before making his final move toward the wire. Not only that, he is the lone stalker in the field, which could put him in the perfect spot to take advantage of virtually any pace picture.

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Since the Kentucky Derby adopted the point system for entry in 2013, seven of eight Preakness winners were within 3½ lengths of the lead at the first half-mile marker. The exception was 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator, who was eighth by 6½ lengths and chasing a fast pace in the slop. Concert Tour, meantime, has never been further back from the leader than 2½ lengths at any call in any of his four career races.

Concert Tour could prove to be Medina Spirit's biggest competition this weekend.
Concert Tour could prove to be Medina Spirit's biggest competition this weekend.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Midnight Bourbon rallied from as far back as 12th to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby after he was bumped at the start and forced to race as a closer rather than employ his natural front-running style. That wasn't the only trouble he faced. Midnight Bourbon's trip notes include him racing four-wide on the first turn and six-wide around the second turn, yet he still managed to keep an average speed that was tied for second-fastest in the 19-horse Derby field. He is also the highest Derby finisher other than Medina Spirit to try the Preakness. The son of Tiznow also has a graded stakes win around two turns as a 3-year-old and earned his best final speed figure this year in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes in February, finishing third by 1¾ lengths behind Derby runner-up Mandaloun.

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"Midnight Bourbon was very consistent coming into the Derby," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "He wasn't exactly in position to run his best race that day, by the break, traffic, different reasons."

The only concern with betting Concert Tour to win the Preakness is his price. He is the second choice at 5-2 on the morning line behind favorite Medina Spirit (9-5). Anything lower than 2-1 and he becomes less attractive as a win bet. Midnight Bourbon, 5-1 on the morning line, is worth a win bet with odds of 5-2 or higher.