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Ranking the 8-horse Preakness field

Horse trainer Bob Baffert, right, and jockey Flavien Prat and horse,    Hard to Figure   , #6, moments before racing in the 18th running of the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino in Sunland Park, New Mexico, Sunday, March 26, 2023.
Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/Special to the El Paso Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

The second jewel of the Triple Crown will be run this Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

A field of eight has been entered in the Preakness, headed by Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

Mage upset the 18-horse Derby field at 15-1 odds and has the top speed rating in the field. He’ll be a much lower price this Saturday. He’s been installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite with First Mission rated as the second choice at 5-2.

Let’s take a look at the entrants, ranking them from least likely to win to most likely, and regardless of the morning-line odds.

8. Chase the Chaos

Trainer: Ed Moger Jr.
Jockey: Sheldon Russell
Post: 2
Forecast odds: 50/1

Chase the Chaos is one of the most experienced horses in the field with eight races under his belt. He’s made a majority of his starts at California’s Golden Gate, which has a synthetic track.

The gelding’s claim to fame is winning the El Camino Real Derby on that surface in February. In his two subsequent starts, Chase the Chaos has been soundly defeated.

He finished 16 3.4 lengths behind the winner in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on conventional dirt. Returning to Golden Gate, Chase the Chaos finished second-to-last in a field of nine during last month’s California Derby.
There’s no reason to believe he’ll make any kind of impact on Saturday.

7. Coffeewithchris

Trainer: John Salzman Jr.
Jockey: Jaime Rodriguez
Post: 4
Forecast odds: 20/1

The one thing Coffeewithchris possesses that most of the other entrants lack is early speed. Coffeewithchris has been first or second in the early going in his last six starts.

The most experienced horse in the field with 12 starts, Coffeewithchris is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Federico Tesio stakes at Laurel Park. Coffeewithchris set the early fractions from the inside post but couldn’t hold on in the 1 1/8-mile race.

His previous outing was a second-place finish in the Private Terms stakes at Laurel.

Coffeewithchris will play a prominent role during the first half of the Preakness. He’ll either set the pace or try to keep National Treasure honest. By the time the field reaches the top of the stretch, Coffeewithchris will go cold.

6. Blazing Sevens

Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Post: 7
Forecast odds: 6/1

When it comes to a trainer-jockey combination, it’s hard to find a better duo than Brown and Ortiz Jr. Brown has won the Preakness twice and Ortiz is arguably the top jockey in America. They win at a 29% rate when they join forces over a large sample size.

The issue with Blazing Sevens is that he simply hasn’t improved much since winning the Champagne Stakes at New York’s Aqueduct Race Track in his third start. He finished fourth in the Breeders Cup Juvenile and barely lifted a hoof in Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth in his 3-year-old debut.

With blinkers added, Blazing Sevens perked up for a third-place finish in Keeneland’s Blue Grass but was still six lengths behind the winner, Tapit Trice. Blazing Sevens has worked well since that effort but he’ll likely be overbet and must improve dramatically to win this race.

5. Red Route One

Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Post: 5
Forecast odds: 10/1

Red Route One has run in six graded stakes but didn’t win any of them. He was dropped into a restricted $200K stakes race at Oaklawn Park in his last outing and snapped his losing streak. Sitting second-to-last in that field of nine, Red Route One made up 11 lengths and won by a head.

Prior to that effort, Red Route One’s best performances were second-place finishes in the Rebel and Southwest stakes at the same Arkansas track. Like Mage, Red Route One would be aided by a fast pace but that’s unlikely to develop in this race.

Red Route One will pass some horses in the stretch but a third- or fourth-place finish is this colt’s ceiling.

4. Perform

Trainer: Claude McGaughey
Jockey: Feargal Lynch
Post: 6
Forecast odds:15-1

Like Mage and Blazing Sevens, Perform is a son of Good Magic, who finished second to Triple Crown winner Justify in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Unlike Mage, Perform has been slower to develop.

It took six tries before the colt finally broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in March. Trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey then entered Perform in Laurel’s Federico Tesio stakes and the colt pulled off a 10-1 upset.

It didn’t come easy. Rallying from last in a nine-horse event, Perform was forced to check multiple times in the stretch while trying to launch his rally. He finally found clear sailing near the rail and made up six lengths in the final eighth of a mile to reach the top.

The lightbulb has finally gone off for this colt and with a better trip, he has a reasonable chance to finish in the money or at least complete the superfecta.

3. National Treasure

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: John Velazquez
Post: 1
Forecast odds: 4/1

Bob Baffert has served a two-year ban in the Kentucky Derby after Medina Spirit, who crossed the line first in the 2021 running, was later disqualified for a medication violation.

Baffert couldn’t run a starter under his name in this year’s Derby but he’s eligible to do so in the Preakness. Unsurprisingly, he’s bringing in one of the top contenders.

National Treasure finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, losing by less than three lengths after employing stalking tactics. He’s the likely pacesetter on Saturday with the addition of blinkers, which should sharpen his speed, and an inside draw that will force jockey John Velazquez to protect his position.
National Treasure carries a four-race losing streak into the Preakness after breaking his maiden in his debut. However, he’s run well in three other graded stakes, including a third-place finish in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last fall. If National Treasure can set a moderate pace, he could earn the top prize.

2. Mage

Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Post: 3
Forecast odds: 8/5

Considering that Mage finished second to morning-line favorite Forte in the Florida Derby and Forte was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby, Mage shouldn’t have been 15-1 at Churchill Downs.

The biggest concern regarding Mage was his habit of breaking slowly. He didn’t exactly come flying out of the gate in Louisville but a fast pace and an outstanding ride by Javier Castellano mitigated his slow start.

Mage carries the best speed figure into the Preakness off his Derby win and he’s the deserving favorite. Unless he improves his gate habits, Mage could be vulnerable on Saturday. He’ll have to rally off fractions that will likely be less than ideal for his stretch kick.
Mage can certainly win on Saturday but at 8-5 or less he’s not a great bet.

1. First Mission

Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Luis Saez
Post: 8
Forecast odds: 5-2

Brad Cox had four of the 18 horses who reached the starting gate at Churchill Downs but the best he could do was Angel of Empire’s third-place finish.
Cox has only one entrant in the Preakness and the colt didn’t run in the Derby. First Mission, a son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense, has made only three starts but has flashed serious talent.
He broke his maiden at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans during his second overall start and first around two turns. Cox didn’t hesitate to throw First Mission into the last Derby prep, the Lexington at Keeneland. First Mission sat a couple of lengths off the pace, then pounced into the stretch to beat runner-up Arabian Lion by a half-length.
The speed figure for the race was solid, if not as fast Mage’s Derby win. First Mission’s victory was flattered when Disarm, who finished nearly five lengths behind in third place, returned to finish fourth in the Derby.
First Mission should get a perfect trip from his outside post, stalking the two speed horses and then getting the jump on Mage as they turn for home. He may have just enough in the tank to hold off the favorite.