The Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, annually attracts some of the best 3-year-old racehorses in the country to Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. Contenders for the Preakness Stakes usually consist of a handful of horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, but will also typically feature several 3-year-olds that bypassed the Derby for any number of reasons. These new contenders to the Triple Crown are often referred to as “the new shooters.”

Unlike the 20-horse stampede that is typical of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes is limited to just 14 contenders. These Preakness Stakes contenders are, of course, led by the horse that won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. In a Triple Crown tradition that's unique to the Preakness, all contenders for the Preakness Stakes are housed in a single barn, called the Stakes Barn. The Kentucky Derby winner is always front and center as he (or she) is given the first stall in the Stakes Barn.

When deciding on who are the leading contenders for the Preakness Stakes, there are several factors to take into consideration. Kentucky Derby winners typically run well in the Preakness. Since 2000, four Derby winners—War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008), went on to win the Preakness Stakes. During that same stretch, there were three so-called “new shooters”--horses that skipped the Derby—that won the Preakness Stakes. They were Red Bullet in 2000, Bernardini in 2006 and the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Those results have been typical of the Preakness Stakes over the decades.

Preakness Stakes contenders that didn't run in the Kentucky Derby tend to be either late developing 3-year-olds that perhaps didn't earn enough money to make the field on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, or perhaps the connections felt the grueling 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby was considered beyond the horse's ability.

Whatever the reason, one advantage these “new shooters” are likely to possess in the Preakness Stakes is a freshness edge over those horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby. In modern Thoroughbred racing, top horses are virtually never asked to race again after just a two-week break. Never mind the fact these contenders are exiting a race like the Kentucky Derby, which is undoubtedly the most taxing race a horse will ever have to endure.

Preakness Stakes contenders are considered to be among the strongest competitors the sport of Thoroughbred racing has to offer. Three weeks after the Preakness Stakes, these 3-year-old racehorses will continue their quest for Triple Crown glory in the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.

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