(Reuters) – Broiling temperatures and the absence of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike threatens to dampen the enthusiasm at Pimlico on Saturday when the 147th the Preakness Stakes goes ahead without the hope of a Triple Crown winner this year.
Rich Strike pulled off a huge shock earlier this month when he won the “Run for the Roses” at the second-longest odds in the race’s 148-year history but his owner pulled the colt from the Triple Crown’s middle jewel citing the quick turnaround to Baltimore.
The move helps clear a possible path for Derby runner-up Epicenter, who is among the favorites in the 1 3/16 miles affair.
“He’s traveling really well. It seems like his energy level is good,” assistant trainer Scott Blasi said in a statement.
“He’s bounced out of the Derby with relative ease and made the ship fine. Just trying to get settled in and get our schooling done.”
Jockey Joel Rosario, who won the Derby in 2013 and came out on top at the Belmont Stakes twice, will negotiate the field from near the outside after drawing the eighth gate.
“It’s a nine-horse field, plenty of run-up to the first turn. Several fresh horses and us coming back in two weeks, I think it’s absolutely ideal,” said trainer Steve Asmussen.
Other contenders include Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Simplification and Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, who finished third in the Arkansas Derby and is aiming to become the seventh filly to win the Preakness.
“She’s going to be very tough. She’s coming off a very good race,” Secret Oath’s Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas told Maryland Racing.
“I think it’s going to be a very contentious race.”
The most fearsome challenge on Saturday, however, may be dealing with the stifling heat, with early forecasts showing temperatures possibly reaching as high as 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35.5°C).
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York, editing by Pritha Sarkar)