NYRA Bets Presents Preakness Countdown: Jockey Desormeaux On ‘Unique’ Pimlico Track

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux was based in Maryland when he won two of his three Eclipse Awards, as outstanding apprentice in 1987 and in 1989 when he rode 598 winners to set an all-time single-season record for wins that still stands. A third Eclipse Award came in 1992 after he moved his tack to Southern California and was the national leader in money won.

The Louisiana native has won the Preakness on three occasions, in 1998 aboard Real Quiet, in 2008 with Big Brown and in last year's 141st running aboard Exaggerator for his brother, trainer Keith Desormeaux.

Desormeaux, who rode longshot maiden Sonneteer to a 16th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, does not have a mount in this year's Preakness.

Because of his record of success at Pimlico, we wanted to get his thoughts on what riding style fits Pimlico, and whether the track deserves its reputation as speed favoring.

“It's definitely unique,” said Desormeaux, who added that the turns feel tighter than other tracks that are a mile or more in circumference, even though a surveyor might find no difference. “It's predominantly known as a speed track. For myself when I was mounted so well through the years, I just tried not to leave a horse that shouldn't get beat too much to do when I got to the straight. At other tracks, Arlington Park being one, it's the complete opposite, especially on the grass. You think you're home at the eighth pole and you always get caught.”

“It behooves a rider to save ground at Pimlico,” he said. “It also would be smart of the rider to consider the eighth pole the wire. You can't leave a horse too much to do from the quarter pole. You'll probably at best make up three lengths from the quarter pole on a stone cold closer. I don't ever remember flying down the lane, thinking, ‘Wait, wait and wait some more.' That's kind of how I ride on a generic day. There it doesn't work as well.”

Desormeaux was unable to save ground on Real Quiet, breaking from the outside No. 10 post position in 1998. He did some race-riding on the Kentucky Derby winner down the backstretch just to the outside of Gary Stevens, aboard Derby runner-up and Preakness favorite Victory Gallop. “I got him engaged earlier, around the five-eighths,” he recalled. “Gary sent Victory Gallop and hit a pocket, then flew forward and got himself free.”

Real Quiet had clear running on the outside and got the jump on Victory Gallop, going six-wide into the stretch to seize the lead and drawing off to win by 2 ¼ lengths.

Big Brown, favored at 1-5 after winning the Derby to remain unbeaten, broke from the six post and was guided to the rail by Desormeaux before passing the finish the first time around, saving ground on the turn. He swung out while third in the run down the backstretch, then moved to the lead without any urging rounding the far turn.

“Big Brown's move was one of the most impressive on a horse that I've been on – ever,” said Desormeaux. “I don't think I made a move until inside the quarter pole.”

Desormeaux shook the reins at the Boundary colt and Big Brown separated from the field at the top of the stretch, drawing off to win by 5 ¼ lengths with his jockey peeking back to see if anyone was coming and wrapping up in the final sixteenth of a mile.

On most two-turn races at Pimlico, Desormeaux said, he likes to ask his mounts to pick it up going into the far turn, near the three-eighths pole.

“I like to get a horse engaged on the left lead and expend the energy on the turn,” he said. “Then when they switch back to the right lead at the top of the stretch, I get a new motor. When they switch leads it's a brand new engine.”

That move worked especially well with the Bob Baffert-trained Real Quiet, the rider said.

“We can do that with Baffert horses because they're trained to do that,” he said. “Baffert horses switch leads and take off at the three-eighths. They catch a little breather from the five-sixteenths to the quarter pole as other horses work to keep up, then take off again when they switch leads at the top of the stretch. A lot of horses aren't trained to do that.”

Desormeaux took Exaggerator from the five post straight to the rail last year, then saved ground around the turn. He gained considerable ground on the inside racing down the backstretch while the front-runners were well off the fence. He tipped six-wide entering the stretch, engaged Derby winner Nyquist, then drew off to win by 3 ½ lengths on a sloppy racetrack.

“Wide is usually not good there,” he said. “We get a lot of flak as riders for losing ground, especially at tracks with Trakus (tracking software that measures a horse's position throughout a race). There are some owners who look at the data and say, ‘You lost 30 feet but got beat a head!' I tell them not all horses want to run inside.

“Fluidity is boss with horses. If a horse is galloping along like poetry in motion, it's a lot better to lose ground than to be stopping and starting on the inside, getting sand in the face.”

What kind of running style best suits the Preakness?

“A contentious horse,” he said. “Always Dreaming.”

In the Derby, Always Dreaming sat just off the early pace of longshot State of Honor, took command down the backstretch and was never headed, winning by 2 ¾ lengths. There was a lot of trouble behind, and a lot of horses didn't handle the surface, which had been pelted with rain for days.

“It was like gum,” Desormeaux said. “It was sticky. I was surprised Sonneteer didn't lose all four of his shoes.”

He added that this year's Derby “was one of the worst ridden races by jockeys I can remember. I never saw outside horses come in so fast. I don't know why they did it. It's a quarter mile before the turn. Johnny (Valezauez on Always Dreaming) is down inside at a maximum gallop while the horses on the outside made a dramatic move to find their position, and it was one of the most dramatic I've seen. The first 80 yards were really rough.”

Both Always Dreaming and runner-up Lookin At Lee stayed close to the rail. Many have said – among them trainer Mark Casse – that there was a inside bias on the Churchill Downs surface.

“Every racecourse does have inside-outside biases,” said Desormeaux, who cautioned that the bias could be completely different for the Preakness than it was for the earlier races on the same program.

“You have to recognize there's a lot of time between the prior race and the Preakness,” he said. “Every racetrack tightens the track to showcase fast horses on their classic events, like the Triple Crown. They manicure and groom the hell out of the track. So however the track was playing early in the day, it's likely going to be a different bias for the Preakness.”


Handicapper's Corner
By Scott Jagow

So, does history back up Kent Desormeaux's analysis of riding in the Preakness? You bet.

For starters, if your horse is going to win, he should be within at least four lengths of the lead after three-quarters of a mile. In the last 20 runnings, every Preakness winner but one (Curlin) was four lengths or closer from the lead at the three-quarters call, heading into the far turn. Not including the three gate-to-wire winners (American Pharoah, Oxbow, Rachel Alexandra), the average margin behind the leader at that point was just over two lengths, the outlier being Curlin at 6 1/2 lengths.

A horse can be well back early, as Exaggerator was last year, but as he did in 2016, the winner needs to make a move down the backstretch to get into contention heading into the far turn. The Preakness isn't won by a horse going last to first around the final turn.

In most runnings of the race, the winner makes a move on the turn, straightens out for the drive and assumes the lead by the eighth pole in mid-stretch. Backing up what Desormeaux said about this, 17 of the past 20 winners had the lead by the eighth pole and finished off the race, the exceptions being Silver Charm (one length behind), Curlin (a length a half), and I'll Have Another (3 lengths). Still, all three of those winners were in second by mid-stretch, having one horse to run down.

What does recent history suggest for this year's field? The track scenario clearly helps Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, who not only has tactical speed but showed in the Derby he can withstand being on an early and somewhat contested pace and still have something left for the stretch drive. With Royal Mo out of the race, the task of keeping pressure on the favorite is likely left solely to Conquest Mo Money, who has also shown an ability to force a pace and hang around.

There are several deep closers in this field, and their riders had better understand the dynamics of Pimlico before getting a leg up. With a knock-out pace unlikely, horses like Lookin at Lee, Gunnevera, Senior Investment, and Term of Art will need to get into the race earlier than usual to stand a chance.

I expect Hence, Multiplier and Cloud Computing to fill the mid-pack, and they shouldn't have too much of a problem being in striking range. Whether they're good enough to win the Preakness is another question.

The horse most interesting to me, based on this analysis, is Classic Empire. He was roughed up in the Derby, became a deep closer, and finished strong, while having no chance of running down the leaders. His previous races suggest he likes it closer to the pace, and I expect to see him settle into a stalking position, being more prominent than he was in the Arkansas Derby. I can envision him making that winning move at the top of the Pimlico stretch. But will Always Dreaming be softened up enough to be caught?

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The post NYRA Bets Presents Preakness Countdown: Jockey Desormeaux On ‘Unique’ Pimlico Track appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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