Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter was set Monday as the 6-5 morning line favorite for the Preakness Stakes, which will be run without Rich Strike.
The surprise Derby winner at 80-1 is not in the field of nine for Saturday’s $1.65 million race. Rich Strike’s owner felt the two-week turnaround did not give the colt enough rest and plans to enter him in the Belmont.
Kicking off the Preakness draw at a Baltimore-area restaurant, emcee Britney Eurton talked about Rich Strike pulling off “one of the greatest upsets in sports history. Though we might not have the Kentucky Derby winner, there is no shortage of talented runners,” she said.
Rich Strike’s absence clouds the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown and makes this the second Preakness in four years without the Derby winner.
It’s the most prestigious prize in horse racing – and the most elusive
Last year, Medina Spirit ran and finished third at Pimlico after testing positive at Churchill Downs for a substance that was not allowed on race day and was eventually disqualified. In 2020, the the races were run out of order because of the pandemic. And in 2019, neither DQ’ed Derby champion Maximum Security nor elevated winner Country House went to the Preakness.
This time, Steve Asmussen-trained Epicenter, who drew the No. 8 post, fourth-place finisher Simplification and 14th-place finisher Happy Jack are the only horses back for the Preakness from the Derby, which Rich Strike won with a furious charge down the stretch.
No. 6 Happy Jack, trained by 2012 Derby and Preakness winner Doug O’Neill, is 30-1. Simplification is 6-1 and drew the rail spot with the No. 1 post position and jockey John Velazquez set to ride.
“At first I thought, not good, but Johnny V is so smart,” trainer Antonio Sano said. “He’ll make the decision if he wants to take the option outside.”
Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath is the third betting choice on the morning line at 9-2 after Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas opted to enter the filly in the Preakness. She drew post position No. 4.
Early Voting is the 7-2 second choice after skipping the Derby. Trainer Chad Brown targeted the Preakness for Early Voting, who drew the No. 5 post position.
While Taiba and Messier aren’t in the Preakness, there is a Bob Baffert presence in Armagnac, a late entry whom the two-time Triple Crown winning trainer transferred to Tim Yakteen. Baffert is serving a suspension in Kentucky for medication violations and would not have been allowed to saddle any horses in the Preakness. No. 7 Armagnac is 12-1.
Added to the field at the extra cost of $150,000, No. 2 Creative Minister is 10-1. No. 9 Skippylongstocking is 20-1, and longshot No. 3 Fenwick is 50-1.
“I think there’s three or four horses to outrun in here, personally, and I’m way behind them,” Fenwick trainer Kevin McKathan said. “Steve’s horse (Epicenter) is obviously the bullet going in. Tami Bobo’s horse, Simplification, runs hard every time and then Wayne’s filly, she’s special, so you have to outrun her. And the rest of them, they’re there and we’ve got to put up with them.”
Beyond Rich Strike, a handful of other horses expected to run in the Preakness were removed from the field before the draw.
Un Ojo, the one-eyed gelding whose bruised foot kept him out of the Derby, was taken out of consideration Monday after the injury flared up. Trainer Ricky Courville reported veterinarians looked Un Ojo over and said, “He’s not 100 percent.”
Brown’s Zandon was also a possibility for the Preakness but now may also skip the June 11 Belmont with eyes on the Travers Stakes this summer at Saratoga.
It’s the official cocktail of the Triple Crown’s “middle jewel.”