Midnight Bourbon, Concert Tour are top Preakness challengers

Sports

Preakness entrant Midnight Bourbon, right, walks on the track during a training session ahead of the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Midnight Bourdon hopes to take a path to the winner’s circle at the Preakness that has successfully been run before — 30 years ago.

Hansel was the horse hyped to win the Kentucky Derby three decades ago but struggled in the first leg of the Triple Crown. He was an afterthought going into the Preakness before winning it.

Hansel’s jockey Jerry Bailey sees similar potential in Midnight Bourbon.

“He had been so consistent — he had never been out of the top three,” Bailey, now an NBC Sports analyst, said of Midnight Bourbon. “He’s the most likely of those type of horses that have always been consistent and wasn’t there in the Derby and now everybody’s writing him off.”

While Derby winner Medina Spirit will likely be the Preakness favorite if drug tests clear him to run, fellow Bob Baffert-trained Concert Tour and typically front-running Midnight Bourbon are the top challengers in Saturday’s race.

Midnight Bourbon was installed on the morning line as the third betting choice at 5-1 behind 9-5 favorite Medina Spirit and 5-2 Concert Tour. The oddsmakers certainly think Midnight Bourbon stands a good chance of handling the 10-horse field in the Preakness better than he did 19 in the Derby, when he finished sixth.

“I’m very confident because of who he is physically,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “He’s very strong physically and his energy level’s been very high since the Derby, so I do think that it’s helpful with him.”

Jockey Mike Smith, who jumped ship to Concert Tour, said Midnight Bourbon stumbled out of the starting gate in the Derby. A cleaner start would allow the colt to better run the race he’s accustomed to from closer to the lead.

If Medina Spirit isn’t scratched for a problem stemming from additional tests agreed to by Baffert’s camp and Maryland racing officials, he’s expected to be on the lead again with stablemate Concert Tour. Bailey pointed out trainers have run multiple horses with different owners in the Preakness before, but this one is more complicated because they have the same running style and could wear each other down.

“The only thing I’d worry about is if they get in each other’s way in a race,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “You’ve got to give them all a fair shot, and the best horse will win.”

A speed duel on the lead could set up well for Chad Brown’s two entries, 10-1 Crowded Trade or 15-1 Risk Taking, Michael McCarthy’s 12-1 Rombauer or Robertino Diodoro’s 15-1 Keepmeinmind, who finished seventh in the Derby.

“On paper I think there’s definitely enough pace, and the smaller field helps,” Diodoro said. “We’re going to stay on the rail as long as we can this time.”

Or Baffert’s horses could run slow enough early to set up something of a match race down the stretch.

“He’s definitely not going to send two (horses to the lead), but at the same time there’s a concern that they could control the pace, his two horses,” Diodoro said. “We’re not going to change our running style.”

Bailey knows that philosophy well from the 1991 Triple Crown, when Hansel finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby after going off as the favorite. That’s why he doesn’t think Midnight Bourbon should be dismissed as a Preakness contender.

But there’s much more talk about Concert Tour, who looks primed to improve on a disappointing third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby on April 10. Barnes said, “Concert Tour didn’t get his chance in the Derby, so this is his chance to shine.”

Rivals around the barn at Pimlico Race Course think so, too. Irad Ortiz will be aboard Midnight Bourbon only because Smith chose Concert Tour instead.

“I would suggest that Mike thought he had a better chance to win on Concert Tour than Midnight Bourbon and that’s why he chose it,” Asmussen said. “Concert Tour’s as fast as you can be. He is obviously a formidable horse.”

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