By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
Still wiping the egg off our faces after picking Point Given and dismissing Monarchos in the Kentucky Derby, we're naturally a little gun shy. But the nice thing about racing is that there's always a chance for redemption right around the corner. We'll go for Congaree and will hope that Monarchos bounces off his super effort in the Kentucky Derby. Though he was beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Monarchos in the Derby, Congaree still ran a sensational race. Jockey Victor Espinoza had him far too close to what was the fastest pace in Kentucky Derby history and then moved to the lead at the top of the stretch. At that point, he had battled through a mile run in 1:35 and was fried. Still, he just missed the place, running far better than anyone else who was at all a part of the sizzling pace. The Preakness will have an entirely different pace scenario. The speedballs from the Kentucky Derby are all home licking their wounds and the only true front-runner in this field is the distance challenged Richly Blended. Congaree, with new rider Jerry Bailey, should get a good trip sitting just off the speed. Another factor to consider is that Congaree already has a win over Monarchos, beating him in the Wood Memorial. Though trainer John Ward Jr. has said that Monarchos was more or less taking it easy that day, the fact that Congaree beat him handily cannot be ignored. What do you do with Point Given? He was advertised as the best thing since Seattle Slew coming into the Kentucky Derby, where he fell flat on his face with a fifth-place finish. Yes, Gary Stevens may have moved too soon, but make no mistake, it was a bad performance. We think that Point Given has to be better than that. The Preakness has a long history of redeeming Derby flops. Remember Hansel, Louis Quatorze, Pine Bluff, Tabasco Cat, Snow Chief, et. al. Will the real Point Given show up? Maybe. Will that be good enough. Perhaps. It's a tough call, but we think he's going to run a good race. By no means are we throwing out Monarchos. Two of his last three races, the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby, were fantastic and if he runs back to either one he can easily win the Preakness. Our knocks are these: He is a candidate to bounce or run a poor effort after an excellent effort that presumably took something out him. We think he bounced in the Wood Memorial, where he was second after running such a powerful race at Gulfstream. The other problem is the pace scenario. Sitting far back early behind the rapid pace in the Derby, everything went right for him. He is certain to have a tougher trip this time around. It's hard to look past the top three, but if you are looking for a little value the horse for you is Mr. John. Patiently handled by top trainer Elliot Walden, he has improved with each start and ran a big race last out in the Lexington at Keeneland. Not only did he earn a giant Beyer figure of 109, but he chased Keats, who was loose on the lead over a speed-favoring track. This is a big step up in class, but there's no reason why he can't sneak into the money. Marciano is the top local threat, but he looks outclassed. However, he turned in a fine performance in the Tesio, where he beat Talk Is Money and Burning Roma. A lot of people are taking second looks at both A P Valentine and Dollar Bill because they had troubled trips in the Kentucky Derby. That may be, but we don't like either one. A P Valentine has never cracked the 100 Beyer level in his career and is running no faster this year than last. He has been surpassed by the leaders of the division. Dollar Bill was an underlay in the Kentucky Derby at a surprisingly low 6-1 and did have a load of trouble. A more important factor is that he hasn't won anything more important this year than the Rosen Star Stakes and must improve five or six lengths to be in the mix. Richly Blended is a talented horse but he doesn't have a prayer at a mile and three sixteenths. In his only other two-turn effort he got his doors blown off by Monarchos and Congaree in the Wood. Bay Eagle, Griffinite and Percy Hope should find themselves in the rear of the pack at the finish line.
Picks Summary: 1. Congaree 2. Point Given 3. Monarchos