There’s several time-honored traditions of the Preakness Stakes. Black-Eyed Susans. The presenting of the Woodland Vase. Talking semi-facetiously about the “tight turns” at Pimlico. And, of course, hype over “new shooters”.
Most of the time, the top contenders in the Preakness are horses who just raced in the Kentucky Derby. There’s always several horses who did not race in the Derby who try their luck at the Preakness, and at least one will often attract some buzz.
The amount of “new shooters” varies greatly from year to year. In 1999, for example, there were only two of them in the field of thirteen (one of them, Badge, finished third at 58/1). In 2008, ten of the twelve horses in the field were new shooters. This year, it looks as if most of the field will be horses who did not run in the Derby, as they try to defeat expected favorite Authentic.
Yet, for all the hype around new shooters, most of them don’t win. In the past 20 editions of the Preakness, only four horses who didn’t run in the Derby took home the Black-Eyed Susans. Each of them took slightly divergent paths to the Preakness, and we’ll look back on them here.
RED BULLET, 2000
Red Bullet is a rarity in modern times: a horse who looked like a genuine Derby contender going into the first Saturday in May, but bypassed the race. Unraced at two, Red Bullet burst on the scene with a win in the Gotham Stakes and a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial, both at Aqueduct.
Usually, a resume like that inspires a horse to go to Churchill for the Derby. However, owner Frank Stronach and trainer Joe Orseno elected to bypass the race, hoping to have him fresh for the Preakness. Stronach had tried a similar strategy with Touch Gold in 1997, and it almost worked: he lost by just 1 ½ lengths.
On Preakness day, all the hype went to Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. He went off at 1-5, making him the first Derby winner to be the Preakness favorite since 1994. Red Bullet was dismissed as the 6/1 second choice in the field of eight.
As it turned out, Stronach and Orseno’s strategy worked to perfection. Red Bullet saved ground towards the back of the pack, and rallied three-wide turning for home. Fusaichi Pegasus made a rally at the same time, but couldn’t keep up with his fresher rival. Red Bullet crossed the wire 3 ¼ lengths in front. He became the first horse to win the Preakness without running in the Derby since Deputed Testamony in 1983.
Bernardini bloomed even later than Red Bullet. He didn’t break his maiden until March 7, and came into the Preakness with just three races under his belt. His only stakes win was a triumph in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, where he beat three rivals. Bettors were unimpressed, and sent him off at 12/1 in the nine-horse Preakness.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically in the opening quarter, when Kentucky Derby winner and heavy favorite Barbaro was pulled up. With his biggest rival, and a horse with a very similar running style, out of the race, Bernardini was able to get a perfect trip stalking the leaders. When they began to fade on the final turn, Bernardini rocketed by them and opened up in the stretch. He cruised under the line a 5 ¼ length winner. Proving this win was no fluke, he went on to win three more stakes that year.
RACHEL ALEXANDRA, 2009
The only new shooter in modern times to go off as the Preakness favorite, she was very well-known to the racing world prior to her Preakness win. After three impressive prep races, she stunned the field in the Kentucky Oaks, winning by 20 lengths.
After that race, she was purchased by Stonestreet Stables, and pointed towards the Preakness. There was some controversy before the race, as Ahmad Zayat, who owned Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, announced that he would try to fill up the field in order to keep the filly out of the race. After a public uproar, Zayat backed off his plan, and Rachel Alexandra made it into the field of thirteen. She was the 9/5 favorite, with Pioneerof the Nile and surprise Derby winner Mine That Bird 6/1 each. She got enough hype that Calvin Borel, who rode both her and Mine That Bird in their respective wins, jumped off the Derby winner to ride her.
The hype was warranted, as Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years. She led the way early in the two-path, getting pressure from Big Drama from her inside. On the far turn, she pulled away and opened up a clear advantage. Although Mine That Bird closed sharply, the filly held on for a historic win.
CLOUD COMPUTING, 2017
Sort of a poor man’s Red Bullet, Cloud Computing came into the Preakness off a runner-up finish in the Gotham and a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial. He was 13/1 in the Preakness, and wasn’t even the most hyped new shooter in the field. Conquest Mo Money, who won the Sunland Derby and voluntarily bypassed the Kentucky Derby, was the most supported new shooter, going off at 10/1.
As it turned out, Conquest Mo Money never fired, while Cloud Computing got a dream trip stalking the pace. Turning for home, Derby winner Always Dreaming gave way, and Classic Empire opened up three lengths in the stretch. In the final sixteenth, Classic Empire got tired, and Cloud Computing got up to win by a head. He paid $28.80 to win, one of the highest win prices in Preakness history.
In addition to the above-mentioned four, these other new shooters have come close to Preakness glory:
MAGIC WEISNER, 2002: A Maryland-bred who debuted for a $40,000 tag, he was 45/1 on Preakness day. With a strong rally in the stretch, he just missed pulling off a shocker, finishing second to Derby winner War Emblem.
SCRAPPY T, 2005: He’s best known for infamous reasons. With Afleet Alex about to surge by him entering the stretch, Scrappy T abruptly ducked out and almost caused his rival to fall. Undeterred, Afleet Alex recovered quickly and won by 4 ¾ widening lengths. Scrappy T held on for second, five lengths clear of Derby winner Giacomo in third.
FIRST DUDE, 2010: This new shooter ran a very gutsy race. He set a very fast pace early on, and looked like he’d be swallowed up by favored Lookin at Lucky turning for home. However, he battled back gamely on the inside, and it was only in the last sixteenth that Lookin at Lucky held on. First Dude secured second at 23/1.
CHERRY WINE, 2016: Although Exaggerator was a clear-cut Preakness winner that year, Cherry Wine still turned in a great account of himself. He closed from nineteen lengths out of it to edge Nyquist for second.
EVERFAST, 2019: Similar to Cherry Wine three years prior, this 29/1 shot came from far behind to get second behind War of Will. He narrowly defeated another new shooter, Owendale, for that spot.