Editor’s note: First Mission was scratched from the Preakness field the day before the race.

A Kentucky Derby that appeared on paper to have little pace seemed likely to make it difficult even for the best closers to have a chance. Then, the top late runner and likely favorite, Forte, was scratched, leaving a more open field with greater betting opportunity.

Despite what happened after last year’s blistering fractions led to Rich Strike’s shocking upset, the early runners once again unwisely left too fast, setting up another unexpected result. A 15-1 long shot in Mage, who finished second to Forte in the Florida Derby, passed a tiring Two Phil’s in the stretch and held off the late-charging favorite, Angel of Empire, to capture another shocking version of the Run for the Roses.

Now headed to Preakness, it first appeared Mage’s job of defending his Triple Crown chances wouldn’t be getting any easier, but some twists in the plan have knocked out strong contenders and left Mage as the only Derby runner to wheel back.

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Still, contenders such as Brad Cox’s Lexington winner First Mission and Chad Brown’s Champagne winner Blazing Sevens will look to knock the Derby victor from his throne.

Even with a smaller field, getting the Kentucky Derby winner into Preakness should provide good betting opportunities for long-shot and exotics plays, as well as setting up the storyline for a Triple Crown chase. To spice things up, there’s a locally based Maryland-bred in the field, too.

Post time for the 148th Preakness is 7:01 p.m. Saturday, as the 13th race on the Pimlico Race Course card. Good luck, and happy Preakness!

1. NATIONAL TREASURE (4-1)

Off a long layoff from the Santa Anita Derby, National Treasure was aiming for Kentucky after going off as the favorite in Santa Anita, eventually falling behind the top three in that try. Now back in the barn of Bob Baffert, this one will likely show a bit more early speed and conditioning than he has in the past. He doesn’t have a win outside of his maiden, and struggling to handle distance without being on a faster pace isn’t the best sign in this spot. The best scenario he can hope for is one where he takes advantage of softer fractions, potentially holding on to hit the board. With a couple of better options ahead of him, it would need to be a dream trip for this colt by Quality Road to be a true threat. Depending on the value, this could be a nice exotics play given that he is a slight notch below the top ones, but probably better than the true long shots. Blinkers back on and the inside post probably mean look toward the front to find him early.

To read the rest of the story, head over to The Racing Biz.

The Baltimore Banner and The Racing Biz have a content-sharing partnership leading up to the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 20.

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