You might think that the strategy for this Saturday's Preakness would be fairly obvious, since the first four finishers in the Kentucky Derby are not only in the field but clearly dominate it. But the fact is that no matter what anyone figures or tries to plan, the two classics are rarely run the same way. The owners, trainers and jockeys behind Chateaugay, Never Bend, Candy Spots and On My Honor (in order of their Derby finish) are well aware of this.
One big reason is that the track at Pimlico, with its sharper turns and slightly shorter homestretch, favors speed horses, which Churchill Downs does not. Jimmy Conway, Chateaugay's trainer, concedes that without No Robbery to press the pace or to take it outright (he's not in the race and neither is swift Ahoy) a further advantage must be given to Never Bend. "He will be more difficult to catch, or certainly harder to get by if and when you do catch him," says Conway, reflecting on past Preaknesses won by front-running types like Bold Ruler and Bally Ache. "On the other hand, a trainer shouldn't try to change his horse's way of running. Chateaugay runs from way back and that's the way he'll run the Preakness. I wouldn't expect to find him 10 lengths out of it at the half-mile pole, as he was at Churchill Downs, but he'll be back nonetheless."
In Chateaugay's favor is the fact that he probably is the most improving horse among the favorites. True, his Derby may have been somewhat set up for him by Never Bend, and aided considerably by Candy Spots running a curious roundabout course, but it was his own class and superb condition that, in the end, earned him the roses. He turned the fourth quarter mile at Louisville in about 23 seconds, and after that it was no disgrace to run the final quarter in 26 2/5 seconds. As Conway says, "He came back in such good condition that I have to think it was one of his easiest races. He must have been fit, and I can promise that he'll be fit on Preakness day."
Certainly Never Bend and Candy Spots should profit from their Derby experience. Never Bend was fit, to be sure, but probably not as fully as he might have been had he not suffered a slight ankle injury at Keeneland. Neither Owner Captain Harry F. Guggenheim nor Trainer Woody Stephens is offering any excuses, but both agree that one race cannot be conclusive. With nothing but admiration for Chateaugay, Stephens says, "The winner moved big and bold and you can't take anything away from him. I just hope Never Bend was a little short in the Derby, and I'm looking for a little improvement in him."
Mesh Tenney, trainer of Candy Spots, does not agree with those who claim his horse was short for the Derby after his five-week layoff or that Jockey Bill Shoemaker gave Candy Spots a poor ride. "Shoe rode a typical Shoe ride," he said last week, "but he was bothered. Going inside of No Robbery, who we suspected might bear out at any time, was the sensible thing to do." In any event, Candy Spots will not be short in the Preakness. Last weekend he went a mile in 1:38 2/5 over an off track—one of the most impressive workouts seen in some time. More impressive perhaps than the time was the easy way Candy Spots moved over the deep Pimlico track and rolled around the steep turns. Some observers think Never Bend, a more compact animal, should be able to swing around any kind of turn, whereas a longer and larger horse like Candy Spots will have trouble. Tenney says, "Whether a horse is willing to make a turn is much more important than his conformation."
Not to be completely overlooked in the Preakness is Maine Chance Farm's Get Around, a lightly raced Citation colt who won last week's Withers mile in 1:36 3/5 for his third victory in five starts. He is improving now the way Chateau-gay was before the Kentucky Derby.
My guess is that the Derby finish will be somewhat rearranged at Pimlico. I say Candy Spots, Never Bend and Chateaugay, followed by Get Around. I can't be wrong again—or can I?