All of 2020 has been unconventional to say the least and the Triple Crown series is no exception. Instead of starting with the GI Kentucky Derby on the First Saturday in May, the highlight of the 3-year-old season kicked off in mid-June with a shortened GI Belmont S., which is traditionally the final leg of the series. It was 11 weeks before the Run for the Roses on the First Saturday in September and now, another four weeks later, the Triple Crown road comes to an end in Baltimore Saturday with the GI Preakness S.
The connections of Belmont hero and Derby runner-up Tiz the Law (Constitution) opted to skip this Classic event and train up to the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, which means favoritism will sit squarely on the shoulders of Derby victor Authentic (Into Mischief). Opening his account with a trio of victories, two of which were graded, the Bob Baffert trainee suffered his only loss when second to the recently retired Honor A. P. (Honor Code) in the GI Santa Anita Derby June 6. Taking the GI Haskell Invitational S. by a nose July 18, the bay went wire-to-wire in the Derby, scoring a gritty victory over favored Tiz the Law.
“He would have been ready to roll in two weeks,” said Baffert, who is the winning trainer in Preakness history. “I feel pressure now because I never lost a Preakness with a horse I won the Derby with. Now the pressure’s on me.”
His stablemate Thousand Words (Pioneerof the Nile) was a late scratch from the Run for the Roses after rearing and flipping over in the paddock. Also kicking off his career with a trio of wins, including two graded events, the $1-million KEESEP buy was off the board in the GII San Felipe S. and Oaklawn S. this spring. Given a brief freshener following that Apr. 11 test, the bay was second when he returned in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby July 4 and was back to winning ways in the Shared Belief S. Aug. 1 at Del Mar. Baffert puts blinkers on the colt for this return to Grade I company.
Art Collector (Bernardini) was a late defection from the Derby due to a minor hoof issue. The homebred has been a perfect four-for-four since transferring to Tom Drury, starting with a pair of optional claimer scores at Churchill Downs. A decisive winner of the GII Toyota Blue Grass S. July 11, the bay wired the Ellis Park Derby last time Aug. 9.
“The Derby was disappointing because he was training so well leading up to it, but, gosh, I feel like he’s doing equally as well right now,” Drury said. “We’re ready to take our best shot.”
Blue Grass runner-up Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil) takes another crack at the boys in this event. Capturing the GIII Fantasy S. and GII Santa Anita Oaks prior to the Blue Grass, the chestnut filly scored a decisive victory in Saratoga’s GI Alabama S. Aug. 15 and came in second to upsetter Shedaresthedevil (Daredevil) in the GI Kentucky Oaks Sept. 4.
“I don’t know if we have to differentiate genders. In Europe, fillies run against colts all the time. I don’t think Enable has run straight fillies [more than a few times] in several years,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “Here it seems to be more of a big deal, but for the most part when you bring a good one into the game, it doesn’t matter.”