Preakness pick: Art Collector will reward trainer’s patience

Trainers are always supposed to do the right thing for their horses, even when it’s time to make a difficult and likely costly decision.

Tommy Drury did just that a few weeks ago.

Only the most serious horseplayers probably know who Drury is. He’s not a big-name trainer like Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher; he’s a guy with exactly one graded stakes win in his 30-year career, someone whose purse earnings in 1994 were all of $71, and who topped the $1 million mark in annual earnings this year for the first time.

But 2020 was shaping up as his moment. A Louisville guy finally had a Kentucky Derby horse in Art Collector, who would have been one of the favorites. Thing is, a few days before that race, Drury noticed that Art Collector had a very minor foot issue. He didn’t hesitate and scratched him out of the Derby.

Now, maybe he’ll get rewarded for doing the right thing.

Saturday’s Preakness, the end of this year’s most unusual and out-of-typical-order Triple Crown race slate, has a very solid field. There’s Authentic, the Kentucky Derby winner who dug deep to deny Tiz the Law — who was looking very much like a Triple Crown contender. There’s Max Player, who would be the only horse in all three Triple Crown races this year and someone who looks very ready for a huge effort. There’s Swiss Skydiver, a supremely talented filly and one who’s capable of beating the boys with ease.

And there’s Art Collector, whose foot injury is totally healed and looks back to top form based on his recent workouts.

There’s little arguing that those four horses — Authentic, Max Player, Swiss Skydiver and Art Collector — are all capable of winning it all. Mr. Big News, third in the Kentucky Derby, will also get some love from bettors. So will Thousand Words, the horse that had to be scratched from the Derby after flipping in the paddock before the race.

The more legitimate contenders there are, the better of a betting race it is. And there’s plenty of horses in here who can win the race, so payouts — particularly on exotics such as exactas and trifectas — have the potential to be quite nice. That won’t be an issue.

The big question to be answered before placing a bet in this race is this: How much did the Kentucky Derby take out of Authentic?

To the credit of jockey John Velazquez and Baffert, Authentic’s Derby run was flawless. Tiz the Law (who is sitting the Preakness out to prepare for next month’s Breeders’ Cup Classic) was widely considered the class of the 3-year-old field and was pretty good that day at Churchill Downs. Authentic was just better.

And if Authentic replicates or even improves on that run, well, the Preakness is over before it starts.

Authentic hasn’t been the most consistent horse in the world. He’s a worthy favorite and could go right to the lead in the Preakness and simply dare the field to come track him down.

Mr. Big News is a classic closer, one who could be flying at the end. Swiss Skydiver, if she’s close with a couple furlongs to run, will have a chance — and doesn’t seem to need to know her jockey to run well, either. She’s won five races for four different jockeys and another new rider, Robby Albarado, will be aboard on Saturday. That might scare off some bettors, but it shouldn’t. Max Player’s workouts suggest he’s quite sharp as well right now.

But the pick is Art Collector.

He’s won each of his last four starts, by an average of four lengths. His speed numbers are very good and the only question is if jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. will be patient enough to not make his move at the leader, probably Authentic, too early.

Drury took care of his horse at the Derby. The horse will return the favor at the Preakness.

The projected finish: Art Collector, Mr. Big News, Authentic, Swiss Skydiver.

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