The 2023 Preakness Stakes is set to take place this Saturday, May 20. This year, the race breeds a unique California connection.
Racing’s $1.5 million second jewel of the Triple Crown features Mage, the race favorite and Kentucky Derby winner, who hails from Florida.
Two opposing entries in the rest of the field, National Treasure and Chase the Chaos, are known to California horse racing fans.
But their trainers represent geographic and career-path differences for the horses that break right next to each other from the Preakness starting gate at about 3:50 p.m.
California trainers in Preakness
One trainer is a legend. That’s Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame icon who guided American Pharoah and Justify, racing’s last two Triple Crown winners, in 2015 and 2018. The Preakness is one of Baffert’s many stages, as his seven victories in it shares the race record.
This time, Baffert saddles National Treasure, the 4-1 third choice.
On the blue-collar end of this spectrum sits Ed Moger Jr. People outside of California would say “Ed, who? Chase the what?”
Moger’s horse, Chase the Chaos, is the longest-of-longshot 50-1 choice in the morning line. That’s probably justified, as he was nowhere near the contending picture in the San Felipe at Santa Anita in March.
Racing analysts believe Chase the Chaos doesn’t even belong in this race. They also said that about Rich Strike last year, before the 80-1 shot notched the biggest Kentucky Derby upset since 2013.
It hardly matters to Cinderella Story lovers whether Chase the Chaos chases a Preakness title in vain. What matters is that Moger chases a dream, period.
These visions, even if unfulfilled fantasies, bring humanized depth to the racing industry.
Here’s a closer look at the white-collar and blue-collar paths, relatively speaking, of the California combatants.
Baffert was suspended for the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. In Louisville, Tim Yakteen took over at the behest of Baffert, his longtime mentor and friend. But now he is back in his element.
His Preakness winners read like a Who’s Who in thoroughbred racing over the last quarter of a century. There was Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Lookin at Lucky (2010), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018).
He does share one minor trait with Moger this year. Baffert doesn’t have the favorite. Nonetheless, he remains peerless for his timely entries in major East Coast races and National Treasure is respected at 4-1 betting odds, third favorite.
National Treasure will test the Baffert magical touch theory this year. He was running well until suffering a foot injury in March. That led to him being scratched as the favorite just before the San Felipe at Santa Anita.
National Treasure returned in April to run fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. It was a belated fourth, suggesting he needed a race back to get in shape and might be better his next time out. This is his next time out, so we’ll see.
If this one race does not work out, Baffert retains influential connections with wealthy horse-racing owners. Odds are, he gets another viable Preakness contender soon.
Moger tells a different tale.
RELATED: After Derby Suspension, Bob Baffert Can Train Horses For Preakness Stakes
Ed Moger Jr.
The 67-year-old has been a trainer for four decades, mostly in Northern and Central California. Chase the Chaos qualified for the Preakness by winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields outside of San Francisco.
His horses have made approximately 15,000 starts with nearly 2,000 winners. They have earned just shy of $37 million. But he has never entered a horse in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes.
It thus does not matter to Moger that he has the longest shot on the board. They invited his horse and he’s coming. For Moger, the attempt is more important than the result.
And Southern California bettors do recognize his name. Moger sends a string of horses to the Del Mar meet each summer, and he has broken through on one significant horse: Stilletto Boy.
Early this year, Moger joined Baffert in the top three in a high-profile event at Gulfstream Park in southern Florida. Stilletto Boy led the $3 million Pegasus to the turn and held a tight third at 45-1. Baffert’s defunded passed him and got second. The winner was Art Collector.
Over the past couple of years, Stilletto Boy has also run just behind elite horses like Country Grammer, Flightline, Life is Good, and Knicks Go. He also won the Santa Anita Handicap in March of this year.
But Stilletto Boy never got Moger to the Triple Crown circuit. That’s why Moger brings Chase the Chaos to this dance.
Baffert and Moger exemplify two enticing elements of the industry.
Whenever Baffert gains an 8th Preakness, he’ll own the mark for a race first run in 1873. It will start new tradition.
Moger is the reason people root for the little guy. Everybody battles odds like 50-1 in some walk of life, all the time.
Preakness Stakes Overview
It goes off at about 3:50 p.m.
Mage, the Kentucky Derby winner, is the favorite and breaks from the 3 post. Second choice is First Mission, coming off a victory in the Lexington. He breaks from post 8.
The field includes Coffeewithchris, Red Route One, Perform and Blazing Sevens.
Chase the Chaos is expected to vie for the lead against Coffeewithchris. The contenders are expected to stalk just behind them and decide the race in the homestretch. Red Route One and Perform are notorious late runners.
The Preakness usually runs to form but there is one thing gamblers have learned about when so many things are expected: handicap something unexpected.
Good luck in the Preakness!