Epicenter, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, will head to the post as the favorite for the 147th Preakness Stakes on Saturday afternoon in Baltimore.
However, there are plenty of interesting storylines to follow as nine horses vie for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
The Preakness willbe without Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, whose owners opted to rest their horse in favor of the Belmont Stakes on June 11 in Elmont, N.Y. That assured that there will not be a Triple Crown winner for the 42nd time in the past 44 years.
The 1 3/16-mile race at venerable and crumbling Pimlico Race Course carries a total purse of $1.65 million, with the winner earning 60 percent ($990,000).
Rich Strike, who went off at odds of 80-1 in the Derby after earning a spot in the field on the day before the race when another horse was scratched, was the biggest longshot to win the race since 1913.
The choice not to enter Rich Strike in the Preakness places the focus on Epicenter, who finished second at Churchill Downs on May 7. Rich Strike entered the Derby after wins at the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Epicenter, who has been posted as the 6-5 favorite for Saturday's race, is trained by Steve Asmussen, who has won more races than any other North American thoroughbred trainer. Those victories include the 2007 Preakness with Curlin and the 2009 Preakness with filly Rachel Alexandra.
Epicenter would have likely been the favorite in the Preakness even if Rich Strike had entered. This will be Epicenter's eighth career start, but Asmussen thinks of the first seven, and even the Preakness, as just a warm-up for the horse's career on the track.
"It's a very unique opportunity and Epicenter has a very nice resume, and we would definitely like to add to it," Asmussen said. "We expect this is just the beginning of his racing career. ... How he runs back in two weeks, and how he comes out of a race back in two weeks is yet to be determined."
Early Voting, trained by Chad Brown, is the 7-2 second choice in the field of nine. Brown and Early Voting's owner Seth Klarman opted to skip the Kentucky Derby and point their horse to the Preakness. Klarman grew up just a few blocks from Pimlico.
Early Voting's most recent race was a runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial in New York.
"We think some aspects set up for us," Klarman said of Early Voting. "We may or may not be the speed, which would probably be an advantage at Pimlico; it always has been. But no matter what, I think we have a solid shot, and we're super excited to see what happens."
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will try to capture his seventh Preakness with Kentucky Oaks-winning filly Secret Oath, the 9-2 third choice in the morning line. Secret Oath finished third when she ran against male horses as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby.
"It's her efficiency of motion and acceleration," the 86-year-old Lukas said of Secret Oath. "She's got a devastating kick."
The aforementioned Rachel Alexandra and Swiss Skydiver in 2020 were the only fillies to win the Preakness since 1924.
"If you rough up a filly, they don't handle it very well, so we don't want to put them in that situation at all," Lukas added. "We don't take it lightly, but everything said, we feel pretty strong now that (Secret Oath) can be competitive here."
Fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Simplification is the 6-1 fourth choice in the morning line. Simplification had a similar stalking trip to Rich Strike in the Derby but was bumped twice in the final furlong.
--Field Level Media