Despite tumultuous week, Bob Baffert touts top two horses at the Preakness … away from Pimlico

“Bob Baffert does it again.”

Those were the words of Larry Collmus as Medina Spirit crossed the finish line first at this year’s Kentucky Derby. Who would have thought that phrase now has two meanings?

Seven Derby wins for Baffert, and now five medication violations in a little over a year as this past Sunday morning it was revealed that Medina Spirit failed a postrace drug test for the steroid betamethasone.

The Derby winner was cleared to run on Tuesday after Baffert changed his tune from his Mother’s Day denial of any circumstances that would have led to a positive test. Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant trainer, will take the reigns for both Medina Spirit and No. 10 Concert Tour who did not run in the Derby.

While both favorites are Baffert horses, they come from different ownership groups so there should be no expectation of any shaking and baking to get Medina Spirit to the front for a win. There are certainly questions from a ratings and wagering standpoint: Will people tune in to watch what happens with the former $1,000 darling-turned-controversial-favorite? Are bettors going to be skeptical that the race is actually clean?

Post time is at 6:47pm at Pimlico in Baltimore. Here is how the ten horses will line up:

Courtesy Maryland Jockey Club

Without further adieu, below are the Big Chee Preakness Picks, along with an explanation as to why I will be fading one of the Baffert horses in the second leg of the Triple Crown:

WIN: No. 3 Medina Spirit 

John Velasquez ran this horse masterfully in the Derby, but Medina Spirit the horse showed a lot of guts en route to a wire-to-wire victory.

Surprisingly, Velazquez has never won the Preakness but he fits this tough little horse perfectly. If you are wagering on Medina Spirit, you do have to be weary of the prospect of a scratch. Will all of the pre-race tests, additional or otherwise come back clean?

If the answer is yes, the rest of the field is inadequate compared to the horses at the Derby so he has a strong chance to capture the second leg and 60% of the $1 million purse at Pimlico.

Under normal circumstances, Medina Spirit would probably be a 6-5 or 7-5 favorite and he is certainly beatable, but there isn’t much of a threat for a quicker pace or surge inside or outside to match his tactical speed.

Were you kicking yourself for betting against Baffert in the Kentucky Derby? Don’t get fooled again: Five out of Baffert’s six Derby winners have gone on to win the Preakness. Authentic is the only exception last year and that could have been attributed to the modified Triple Crown schedule.

We saw what works for Medina Spirit at Churchill Downs: When he goes to the lead, he wins the race, and that’s what I am expecting to happen at Pimlico Saturday no matter how controversial it is for him to be running in the first place.

PLACE: No. 5 Midnight Bourbon

Irad Ortiz, who along with Johnny V is one of the two hottest jockeys in the country, is now aboard Midnight Bourbon — who finished sixth at the Derby. He got caught up getting bumped early and had a lot to overcome and it certainly wasn’t one of Mike Smith’s finest rides.

With Ortiz you can expect an aggressive riding style and he will want Midnight Bourbon to get into his preferred running style which is from the stalking position.

Is it realistic to expect Midnight Bourbon to overtake Medina Spirit while running from behind? Meh.

The speed figures are there but to me he just doesn’t seem fast enough to run with the front runner, and if he does push the pace too much, he will be cooked by the final stretch. I also worry that he seems to lose ground in the stretch and that sometimes he’s a one-paced horse.

I expect this horse to be overbet as the public will want to have some action on a non-Baffert horse, and this is the one with the best chance to win according to oddmakers.

He’s a contender and you have to use him in your tickets but I do not believe he is good enough to win outright.

SHOW: No. 4 Crowded Trade

A lightly-raced horse that finished third in The Wood Memorial where he was right there but couldn’t make up ground to close because he was too wide.

He did run well in the Gotham where he finished ahead of Highly Motivated who was highly touted (especially by yours truly) coming into the Derby.

This horse definitely seems live, he comes from a very good stable and Chad Brown is the right guy to get him ready. If he were to win, it would not be that surprising as Javier Castellanos is a big money rider who will know how to ride the horse.

One concern I have with Crowded Trade is that all three career starts have been run at the Aqueduct which is kind of a slower track.

He won his debut in January which was followed up with a nose loss to Weyburn in the Gotham Stakes. He finished third in his third career race behind Bourbonic and Dynamic One, neither of whom were in contention at the Derby.

If you need a fourth for a superfecta…

No. 6 Rombauer 12-1 

Rombauer won the El Camino Real Derby, so he gets a free trip to the Preakness. However, this time around he’s in a tough spot at Pimlico and it’s debatable whether he is actually capable of finishing first in this race.

Trainer Mike McCarthy is a solid conditioner and Flavien Prat is a terrific jockey.

Despite not getting the pace set up that he wanted and going up against the rail in a change of style, he finished third in Bluegrass behind Essential Quality and Highly Motivated. He has run multiple good races on the dirt and he is a consistent kind of runner.

If no one gets in his way he can run up and even potentially make the trifecta.

FADING: No. 10 Concert Tour

Baffert’s “other” horse finished third in The Arkansas Derby after backing out of the lead and succumbing to Super Stock. Was the horse winded? Did he give his best effort?

Mike Smith is now aboard after Joel Rosario surprisingly hopped off to ride a relative unknown in Japanese horse France Go De Ina.

Concert Tour’s workouts have been good but, despite skipping the Derby, the owners seem keen on running him every three or four weeks, which is kind of a lot.

Smith is a legend after winning the Triple Crown with Justify but his performance in the Derby was questionable and I wonder if the 55-year-old jockey’s best days are behind him.

Chris Cichon

Chris Cichon (aka "The Big Chee on WTOP") has been a sports anchor with WTOP since 2013. In addition to reporting on sports, Chris coaches football at Towson High School in Maryland.

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