Preakness Preview: American Pharoah's Triple Crown quest


Preakness Preview: American Pharoah's Triple Crown quest

This Saturday is the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico on NBC, the shortest of the three Triple Crown races at 1 3/16 miles. With a much more compact field of eight, compared to the 18 that started in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness features four of the top five finishers from the Derby.

Much like the Kentucky Derby, pace is going to make the race in the Preakness. In the Derby, Dortmund went out and carved out the early fractions that were not overly quick.  Firing Line was never more than a length behind Dortmund early while American Pharoah was never more than two back through the opening mile. Looking at the Preakness field, it appears that pace will be very similar to the Derby as none of the new shooters appear to provide a serious pace threat. 

Here’s a look at the field for the Preakness Stakes in post-position order:

1. American PharoahTrainer: Bob Baffert, Jockey: Victor Espinoza

The Kentucky Derby champ is saddled with the inside draw in the Preakness which is not overly favorable as the last runner to win the Preakness from post one was Tabasco Cat in 1994. That being said, the Preakness normally has a larger field than the eight we will see on Saturday. Victor Espinoza gave American Pharoah a perfect ride in the Derby and is familiar with being in this position as he was aboard both War Emblem and California Chrome in the Preakness off Derby wins. There’s only a couple of concerns for American Pharoah on Saturday. First, if the inside of the Pimlico track isn’t the place to be Espinoza will have to get out early, and second is that this will be his third race in just five weeks, a tie for the shortest amount of rest during a three race period for this field with Mr. Z.

2. DortmundTrainer: Bob Baffert, Jockey: Martin Garcia

Dortmund was my selection to win the Derby and he ran a very gutsy third.  Honestly I did not expect him to be setting the pace in the Derby but when he got to the front and slowed the fractions down, I felt he had a huge chance late. He may have been compromised on the first Saturday in May by running in what was likely the worst part of the track as he was inside with late outside moves coming from American Pharoah and Firing Line. In the end he was only defeated three lengths and now shortens up a sixteenth of a mile for the Preakness. I fully expect he finds the front once again and he should play a huge factor in the outcome of this race in the end.

3. Mr. ZTrainer: D. Wayne Lukas, Jockey: Corey Nakatani

Mr. Z became a late player in the Preakness as he was not expected to run in this race. On Wednesday morning came news of the sale of Mr. Z from Zayat Stables LLC (Owners of American Pharoah) to Calumet Farm and next thing we know Mr. Z is entered. Honestly, Mr. Z likely doesn’t belong in here.  After 13 career starts, he is still eligible for a first level allowance race and that’s with more than twice as many career starts as American Pharoah. The trip he received in the Derby wasn’t pretty but while American Pharoah makes his third start in just five weeks, this will be the fourth start for Mr. Z in seven weeks.

4. Danzig MoonTrainer: Mark Casse, Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Danzig Moon was one that surprised me a bit in the Kentucky Derby as I didn’t expect him to run as well as he did. He was coming off an uninspired fourth against only a so-so bunch in the Tampa Bay Derby and then second while wide in a soft Blue Grass Stakes.  He stepped up though in the Kentucky Derby. He raced in the second flight of runners the entire way around and got jostled much of the way. He never folded though, running on to finish fifth. At a price, Danzig Moon could be a threat to upset in the Preakness.

5. Tale of VerveTrainer: Dallas Stewart, Jockey: Joel Rosario

The positives for this one, he gets one of the hottest jocks over the last five years in Joel Rosario aboard, and his only victory came at the distance of the Preakness. That’s about where it ends in regards to his true chances to win this race. Never say never, but the speed figures for Tale of Verve put him 15-20 lengths slower than this field as his closing style isn’t going to help in a race where the pace isn’t expected to be overly quick. He has a spot in the starting gate though, so I guess anything can happen.

6. BodhisattvaTrainer: Jose Corrales, Jockey: Trevor McCarthy

Another new shooter, this one comes with a little more intrigue. While Bodhisattva didn’t compete in any of the major Derby preps, he is a three time winner and is the only one in this field that has won at Pimlico. He controlled the pace in his most recent start over this track and battled back when challenged in the stretch, but if he tries to challenge Dortmund early, he will likely be hanging with Tale of Verve late. His last three races has shown that he is a horse on the improve. This will be a tough task though as he will likely be tucked in behind all those that were competitive in the Derby early while trying to pass them late.

7. Divining Rod – Trainer: Arnaud Delacour, Jockey: Javier Castellano

Another new shooter in the Preakness, this will likely end up being the wise guy horse that many say can pull off an upset. He has never missed the board in five career starts. He finished a well-beaten third in the Tampa Bay Derby behind Carpe Diem but did come back to run onto a solid win in the Grade 3 Lexington on April 11. He’s fresh, not having run since that start, but his style is also going to put him close early, with the likes of Dortmund, Firing Line and American Pharoah. When it comes to the running in the stretch, I am expecting Divining Rod to be giving way as he did in the Tampa Bay Derby instead of rallying as he did in the Lexington. Also, Leparoux, who rode him last out, stays with Danzig Moon. I would have preferred to see Luis Garcia back aboard this one for the Preakness.

8. Firing Line – Trainer: Simon Callaghan, Jockey: Gary Stevens

The Hall of Famer Stevens gave a Hall of Fame ride aboard Firing Line in the Kentucky Derby. Never letting Dortmund get away, Firing Line also raced on the better part of the track at Churchill that day. He ran huge in that race and could get a very similar trip from the outside draw in the Preakness. The main concern for Firing Line could be if Diving Rod chooses to contend early, leaving Firing Line to go wider into the first turn. He’s never run worse than second from six lifetime starts and this distance should suit him nicely.

The way I see the Preakness running could be very similar to the Derby. I expect Dortmund to try to set slow early fractions. Firing Line likely rates close. The monkey wrench could come if Divining Rod chooses to push the pace along early. Keep an eye on the Derby winner early though. I fully expect Victor Espinoza in guide American Pharoah away from the rail and into the clear within the first sixteenth of a mile. In the stretch, I think this race comes down to the four competitive runners from the Derby. While I’ll be cheering for American Pharoah, my money may go to Danzig Moon if he happens to sneak off anywhere close to his 15-1 morning line. In my estimation, the best way to cash though in the Preakness is to box American Pharoah, Dortmund, Firing Line and Danzig Moon. To me, these four are clearly the class of this race.

Zach LaVine puts on rare scoring display in Bulls' win over Atlanta Hawks

Zach LaVine puts on rare scoring display in Bulls' win over Atlanta Hawks

On some nights, basketball can feel pretty simple. For the Bulls’ offense — a unit in desperate need of a breakout — tonight was one of those nights.

“I told him, whenever you get it, just shoot it. No matter where you at,” Coby White said of Zach LaVine (who else?) after the Bulls routed the Hawks 136-102. “It just seems like when he gets in a rhythm, he's impossible to stop.”

At present, that sentiment resonates strongly. LaVine scorched the Hawks Wednesday night to the tune of 35 points on 12-for-16 shooting, 7-for-7 from 3-point range. And he did it all in just 25 minutes, sitting the entire fourth quarter of a resounding victory that the Bulls, mercifully, polished off early.

“You know, I get it going. And I want it to stay that way,” LaVine said. “It finally got all put together… It feels good. You wanna have wins like that. It does good for the team and obviously for the body [resting the entire fourth quarter].”

Trouncing the Hawks simultaneously snaps a three-game losing streak for the team and a shooting funk for LaVine. He shot only 33.3% from the field on 19 attempts per game in the three games that comprised that losing streak — hard-fought losses to the Warriors, Heat and Raptors. The Bulls’ total margin of defeat from those three contests was eight points.

“That's what we've been trying to put together,” LaVine said of the Hawks game. “Even though we've had our losses, we’ve been competing every game, we've had stretches where we look really good, where we look like the better team. But we're coming out with the losses.”

Not so tonight. But of course, it’s facetious to call the type of display LaVine put on ‘simple’. Every NBA game, no matter what colors the competing teams sport, features the best basketball players in the world. There are no easy nights at the office in this profession.

Which makes just how easy he can make it look all the more astounding. And all the more worth appreciating.

“Zach's efficiency obviously is just unbelievable,” Jim Boylen said. “He wants to be great, and he's working, and his habits are good. So I'm happy for him.”

LaVine joins a list of only 13 players in NBA history to score 35 points in 25 minutes of play with this performance, including Ben Gordon and *drum roll* Michael Jordan. He is also the 20th player in league history to attempt seven or more 3-pointers in a game and make them all. When he’s on, it’s a spectacle. Appointment television.

But, for LaVine, the focus remains on the team. And the future.

“I don't think every game's gonna be like this, obviously,” he said. “But we need to have more of them.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine drops 35 in blowout win over Hawks


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine drops 35 in blowout win over Hawks

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 136-102 win over the Hawks

0:45 - Reaction to blowout win over Hawks, no cookies though?

3:30 - Viewer comments on Matt being angry, and admitting being wrong on LaVine

5:00 - Zach LaVine highlites by Big Dave

8:10 - On Denzel Valentine and the potential for starting

9:35 - Viewer comment asking for Coby White to start, Matt gets annoyed

10:05 - Viewer comment on trading for Michael Porter Jr

11:30 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine in 3-point contest

14:30 - Viewer comment making fun of Sabine’s Cowboys

15:15 - Viewer comment on Markkanen

17:15 - On Otto Porter Jr and missing at least another month

20:55 - Viewer comment on LaVine being the most athletic player in the NBA

23:30 - Viewer comment on Kris Dunn

24:30 - What was your life ‘It’s Over’ moment when you were overconfident?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.