BALTIMORE -- With a nod to Yogi Berra: Nobody goes to the Preakness anymore; it's too crowded.
The easy joke going around Pimlico Race Course this week is that none of the Kentucky Derby winners are running in the 144th Preakness at Pimlico on Saturday, a reference to the fact that one horse crossed the finish line first in the Derby, then another was given the victory, by disqualification. Sooo ... Derby winners, plural. Neither Maximum Security nor Country House will contest the Preakness. Code of Honor and Tacitus are also out.
That leaves a race bereft of Triple Crown juice, but which still managed to assemble a field of 13, one short of a full starting gate, which has happened just twice in the last 25 years. Average field size over that stretch is 10.7, telling us that perhaps nobody sees any world beaters in this year's race and everybody sees a ripe opportunity to notch a career-defining victory.
Among the horsemen in that category is 83-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Preakness six times and will saddle Market King, 30-1 on the morning line off an 11th-place finish in the Blue Grass, in which he was 37 1/4 lengths behind Vekoma at the wire.
Market King's only career victory came in a maiden race at Oaklawn Park in February, but he'll take a shot in the Preakness.
"Here's the rule: If there's one horse, always run. If there's two, look at it critically. If there's three ... maybe," Lukas said, drawing chuckles from the media. "And I'm talking about really superstar horses."
In a strange -- but very bettable -- Preakness, I will not be picking Market King.
It's a measure of the level of uncertainty surrounding this field that a horse who hasn't won a race this year, the Bob Baffert-trained Improbable, is the morning-line favorite.
There are horses in here that have never won a graded stakes race, never won a stakes of any kind and never even run in a stakes.
Another, Bodexpress, has never won a race of any kind. You have to go back to 1888 to find a Preakness winner with that resume.
They all belong, though, sucked into the vacuum created by Maximum Security's disqualification
"It's a really good field. It's a tough field," trainer Bob Baffert said, almost sounding like he was trying to convince himself. "I know I might be the favorite, but I think somebody had to be the favorite. But it'll be a great race."
It'll be interesting to see what kind of crowd they get on Saturday, although so much of the Preakness culture is wrapped up in the sodden infield festival that they could race blind ostriches on the track, and a large segment of the Preakness attendees wouldn't know the difference.
Without the possibility of seeing a Derby winner attempt to take the second leg of the Triple Crown, an unusual development that last occurred when Grindstone was retired with a knee injury in 1996, Pimlico will brace for the same experience Belmont Park goes through every time the Derby winner loses the Preakness.
Speaking of nobody going to the Preakness anymore, no matter what size crowd turns out, we know nobody will be going to the almost 7,000 grandstand seats that were deemed unsafe. That section of Old Hilltop has been reduced to concrete flooring with steels stubs sticking out where seats used to be.
The grandstand is now covered by a huge black curtain with "Preakness" spelled in white letters and "Off Limits to the Public" signs all over the place.
If they move this race to Laurel Park, I'll be sad to see it go, but many people will not.
My pick is Bourbon War, who was a close second in the Fountain of Youth and then didn't get the needed pace up front while finishing fourth in the Florida Derby. There's supposed to be some pace in the Preakness, especially if Tyler Gaffalione decides to hustle War of Will out of the No. 1 post, the same spot he drew in the Derby.