Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM
GREAT RACING AND WAGERING PREAKNESS WEEKEND AT PIMLICO
By Noel Michaels
The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, will be run at Saturday, May 17 – in its usual spot two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. With the Kentucky Derby winner and nine other top 3-year-olds heading to Baltimore for the Preakness, plus tons more top horses lining-up for a total of 14 other stakes races to be run at Pimlico on Friday and Saturday, including five Graded stakes, this is the perfect time for handicappers to turn their attention to Pimlico.
The Preakness Day card – usually with a total of 13 races beginning at 10:45 a.m. including a multitude of undercard stakes races – is annually one of the year’s best race cards. So many horseplayers will be betting so much on Pimlico during the Preakness Friday-Saturday weekend that contains the majority of the stakes races to be run at the Pimlico meet.
Friday, May 16 is Black-Eyed Susan/Pimlico Special Day, which kicks-off a fantastic two-days of racing at Pimlico, which both will be tied together by a Pimlico Special/Preakness Daily Double bet hooking-up both the Friday and Saturday features, plus a Pimlico Special/Dixie Stakes/Preakness Pick 3.
The Preakness weekend action at Pimlico starts early on Friday, where the revamped $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes headlines a 13-race card that also includes the $300,000 Pimlico Special. The highly-bettable undercard stakes begin with the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, the Miss Preakness, the Skipat Stakes, and the Hilltop Stakes.
Friday’s race card will lead nicely into the Pimlico meet’s headline event on Saturday, May 17 – Preakness Day.
Preakness Day will be a day of four graded stakes races including undercard events, the G3, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap, the G3, the G3, $150,000 Dupont Distaff Stakes, the G3, $150,000 Gallorette Handicap, and the G2, $400,000 Dixie Stakes on the turf. Five more ungraded stakes will also be on the card, including the $100,000 Chick Lang Stakes (formerly the Hirsch Jacobs), The Very One Stakes, the James W. Murphy Stakes, The Sir Barton, and the Deputed Testamony Starter Handicap.
Horseplayers will definitely have their eyes on a pair of big Pick 4s on the Preakness card, including a $350,000-guaranteed pool Early Pick 4 on races 5-8, and then of course the all-stakes $1.5 million-guaranteed Preakness Late Pick 4 on races 9-12 ending with the Preakness.
Click here to get in on the action with me on Preakness weekend at Pimlico – one of the best weekends of the year in Thoroughbred racing.
THE 2014 PREAKNESS
The 2014 Preakness expects a less-than-full field of 10 horses including Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. Other horses exiting the Derby hoping for a rematch in the Preakness include a somewhat disappointing line-up of only two Derby also-rans – seventh-place finisher Ride On Curlin, and 11th-place finisher General a Rod. Some people say those horses had bad trips when they lost the Derby. I am not so sure, and even so, I’m not sure any such thing would have made a difference for either of these horses.
This year, I believe the interesting aspect of the Preakness will be not the horses who are not coming to Pimlico from the Derby, but rather the horses who are coming to Pimlico from other places – the new shooters.
The list of new shooters for the 2014 Preakness is a long one and includes some interesting horses, including several intriguing challengers who’ve won major stakes races – such as Dynamic Impact (Illinois Derby winner), Ring Weekend (Tampa Bay Derby), Kid Cruz (Federico Tesio winner), and the filly Ria Antonia (last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner).
In addition to these horses, there are also two lightly-raced up-and-comers in the field who may be even better contenders – Social Inclusion, who was third in the Wood Memorial after crushing highly-regarded Honor Code at Gulfstream with a 110 Beyer speed figure, and Bayern, who was DQ’s out of a win in the Derby Trial in his last start.
The field will be rounded out by the final new shooter, Pablo Del Monte, who seems to be a Polytrack horse on his best days.
All-in-all, this is not a bad field considering that only two challengers come out of the Derby to take on California Chrome – the fewest since only Big Brown and just one Derby also-ran showed up in the Preakness in 2008. Did California Chrome scare everyone away as Big Brown did thanks to his dominant Derby win? Will this year’s result be the same as it was that year when Big Brown again won easily at Pimlico and marched onward to Belmont as the favorite to win the Triple Crown? Only time will tell.
California Chrome is this year’s version of Big Brown, however, unlike Big Brown, this Derby winner comes into the Preakness without a fast Kentucky Derby time and speed figure in his back pocket.
Despite one of the slowest recent Kentucky Derby clockings and a sub-100 Beyer speed figure (originally only a 91 but then upgraded to a still slow 97) on a track that otherwise played lightning-fast all day long, California Chrome won the Derby by 1 3/4 lengths after spurting to a five-length lead at one point earlier in the stretch when the Preakness would been ending (at 1 3/16 miles, rather than 1 1/4 miles for the Derby). Does that mean that California Chrome is overrated? Or could it mean that he won the Derby easily on something much less than his best day? After all, his earlier wins in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe Stakes were even more convincing from a time and speed standpoint.
Whichever side of the fence you land on, I believe that one thing is certain: This Preakness is stacking up to be much more than just a one-horse show that many people are portraying it to be. This group of new shooters has talent and proven ability and the past stakes wins to prove it. So if California Chrome can only muster another 97 Beyer speed figure again in the Preakness, he’ll be in trouble no matter which way you slice it.
PIMLICO’S WINNING TRACK PROFILE
Even though the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico has been anything but a haven for longshots in recent years, the 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow proved that a horse could win the Preakness at a price, while at the same time fitting into the profile of the modern Preakness winner. Oxbow fit the Preakness-winning profile based on post and running style, plus had other angles on his side, yet he still paid $32.80 to win.
Just because the recent trend in the Preakness has pointed toward chalk, that doesn’t mean that astute horseplayers can’t make money and cash profitable tickets if you really know the most important factors to look out for. To be successful in this race in recent years, you only need to focus on a few key trends that have yielded the majority of Preakness winners and exotics horses. These key factors can help you come up with the main pretenders, while at the same time eliminating several money-losing pretenders.
Let’s take a closer look at Pimlico, and at the second jewel of horseracing’s Triple Crown – the Preakness Stakes.
Pimlico’s Prevailing Bias– The Need for Speed and the Myth of the Inside Bias
First off, let’s look at a couple of misconceptions that often affect how horseplayers handicap Pimlico and the Preakness. The first misconception is about Pimlico having “tighter turns” than most tracks. The fact is, however, that Pimlico’s turns are no “tighter” than any other common track layout. The turns may appear different to other tracks based on Pimlico’s odd dimensions, which include a very long stretch run that just so happens to offer no apparent help to the late runners.
The reason I mention the myth about the supposedly tight turns at Pimlico is because that one misconception often leads to another prominent misconception – that Pimlico is strictly an inside-biased track.
For years, handicappers have referred to Pimlico as an inside speed track, when in reality, for nearly a decade since 2005, they have been only half right. Pimlico is, in fact, still generally a speed-biased track. Early speed horses and front runners (horses on the pace or within 2 lengths of the front at the first call) have the preferred winning running style at every distance on Pimlico’s main track. However, in recent years Pimlico really has shown very little statistical indication that the rail, or any of the inside posts for that matter, are any better than any other middle or outside post.
This perceived inside bias, or lack thereof, is important for horseplayers to note when handicapping Pimlico, because the horses drawing the inside posts are almost always overbet due to their post positions. Since the inside posts no longer really offer any statistical aid to a horse’s chances of winning, however, handicappers are often left with overlay odds on the horses breaking from the middle or outside gates.
A look at recent Pimlico race meets shows middle and outside posts winning at good percentages each year, especially in two turn route races where you’d expect innermost post positions to do best. The inside posts (1-3) are statistically no more likely to win than the outside posts 8-11. As a matter of fact, when posts 12 and higher are removed from the equation, the outside posts actually have performed nominally better at times, based on percentage and ROI, than inside posts 1-3 in Pimlico routes. Based on this, the old inside bias at Pimlico, especially in routes, seems to be a thing of the past.
This kind of winning track profile information is not just helpful in making the right bets in the Preakness, it should be employed all weekend long to help handicappers cash tickets and stay alive in exotic wagers leading up to and including the featured third jewel in racing’s Triple Crown.
There is tons of betting action all day Friday and Saturday at Pimlico, but for horseplayers, of course it all comes down to the Preakness – which will probably make or break the weekend for most handicappers since it will be the lynchpin to so many bets, including rolling pick threes and Saturday’s big guaranteed pick four and pick six.
Here are three angles to help you come up with the Preakness winner, and all the top contenders for your exactas, trifectas, and supers:
1) PREAKNESS POST POSITIONS
The commonly-held beliefs about the negative impact of outside draws in the Preakness are false, with the small exception of the sparsely-used posts 13 and 14.
Instead of subscribing to these false beliefs, stick to the following two points when it comes to Preakness post positions in this year’s race, which is likely to include 10 starters:
1) You don’t want the rail post;
2) There is very little advantage or disadvantage associated with any other post position from 2 through 10, but the wagering value exists with the horses drawn in the outside half of the field because many horseplayers still shy away from horses in that part of the starting gate at Pimlico. If anything, the outside is better.
Handicappers who are aided by these facts could very well have an edge over those who still cling to the false belief that Pimlico (and specifically the Preakness) is significantly biased toward the inside posts at the Preakness’s distance of 1-3/16 miles.
Moreover, it should be noted that the rail post is the worst place your horse can break from in the Preakness, and is just about the worst possible place your horse can break from in any race all year long. Handicappers all seem to acknowledge this rail disadvantage in the Kentucky Derby, but mostly overlook it in the Preakness.
This was a great tip last year in 2013, because it helped to eliminate the Preakness favorite, Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who finished out of the money at odds-on!
In fact, when Astrology bucked this trend by finishing third from the rail post in 2011, his feat did not receive nearly enough recognition. Other than Tabasco Cat, who was victorious from the rail back in 1994, no other Preakness winner came from the rail since Belly Ache in 1960. That’s one Preakness winner from the rail in over 50 years!
Beyond that, it had been several years since a rail horse had even hit the board in the Preakness before Macho Again finally hit the exacta after breaking from the rail in 2008. Before Macho Again, the last Preakness rail horse to even reach the superfecta was Lion Heart back in 2004.
The trend at the distance at Pimlico reaches beyond just the Preakness. In a recent sampling of 58 races run at Pimlico at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, the rail horse won only 4 times for 6% wins.
As for the other outside posts that everyone always tries to avoid in the Preakness for some unknown reason, statistics show that, if anything, the outside posts have actually been the best places to be in recent Preakness runnings. Recent Preakness winners breaking from posts 8 and outward include Rachel Alexandria in 2009 (post 13), I’ll Have Another (post 9) in 2012, Bernardini (post 8) in 2006, Afleet Alex (post 12) in 2005, Funny Cide (post 9) in 2003, War Emblem (post 8) in 2002, Point Given (post 11) in 2001, and Silver Charm (post 10) in 1998.
In 2012, the Preakness was dominated by the favorites, so it is difficult to say if post positions helped at all, but let’s just say they sure didn’t hurt the eventual top 3 finishers – I’ll Have Another (post 9), Bodemeister (post 7), and Creative Cause (post 6) – all of whom broke from the outside half of the field.
Last year in 2013, this again was a tremendous angle. In a nine-horse field in the Preakness, the top three finishers all broke from the outside half of the starting gate with Oxbow (post 6), Itsmyluckyday (post 9), and Mylute (post 5) yielding a $301.40 exacta and a $2,061.60 trifecta. Boxing the outside half of the field (5 horses) in an exacta and trifecta for $2 each would have cost $40 and paid $301.40 for the exacta, and would have cost $120 for the trifecta that returned $2,061.60. That made the ROI for those two bets nearly 15X bankroll.
Summary: Inside horses in the Preakness are always overbet, and that means horses breaking from middle and outside posts have the best chances to win, and usually offer overlay odds and good wagering value. Downgrade the rail horse, because that post has been a complete disaster in the Preakness for the last 50+ years.
Wagering Strategy: Box the outside half of the field in the exactas and trifectas. Toss out the rail horse.
2) PREAKNESS RUNNING STYLE
After post position, the next factor to concentrate on when handicapping the Preakness is running style, and in this department, the commonly held notion that speed is good at Pimlico has actually proven to be correct.
With the notable exceptions of the dynamic Afleet Alex, who rallied from 10th place despite adversity to win the 2005 Preakness, and Curlin, who came from sixth to win the Preakness in 2007, almost every other recent Preakness winner has been on the lead or laying no more than a few lengths off the pace at the first call. Even when Preakness winners of the last 16 years or so came from father off the pace – such as with Point Given in 2001, Red Bullet in 2000, and Charismatic in 1999 – the eventual winners in those cases still could be termed stalkers who were able to make their moves into a pace pressing position on the backstretch. Afleet Alex and Curlin were the rare recent examples of horses that won the Preakness with a true late-closing running style.
Speed was again king last year in the 2013 Preakness, not only with Oxbow winning the race wire-to-wire at 15-1 odds, but with the other two pace horses in the race, Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, running second and third in the exotics.
The 2012 Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another, stalked and pressed the pace about 2 to 2½ lengths behind the leader en route to victory over the front-running Bodemeister. Anyone who boxed the four pace-setters would have hit the exacta and trifecta with third-place finisher Creative Cause.
Summary: Ideally, you are looking for a horse, or horses, with some amount of tactical speed, who figure to be on or close to the pace. Give the advantage to speedy horses and pace-pressers, and don’t bet horses that must close from further back than mid-pack.
Wagering Strategy: Fill out your exacta, trifecta, and superfecta boxes with speed horses, pressers, and perhaps one mid-pack stalker. Use no more than one off-the-pace horse in your exotics, and limit that horse’s use to the underneath positions.
3) THE IMPORTANCE OF RECENT/CURRENT FORM IN THE PREAKNESS
One of the most relevant handicapping trends bettors should focus on when making their Preakness wagers is how well a horse did, and where he did it, in its last race.
Of the 17 Preakness winners from 1997 to 2013, nine were Derby winners, two had hit the board in the Derby (not including Shackleford in 2011, who at least hit the superfecta), and three had skipped the Derby entirely in order to point directly for the Preakness. The three that skipped the Derby – Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Bernardini in 2006 and Red Bullet in 2000 – all exited good efforts. Rachel Alexandra demolished the field in the Kentucky Oaks, and the other two had finished in the exacta in the Wood Memorial in their most recent races before being pointed directly to the Preakness.
These horses are important to consider when handicapping this year’s Preakness that contains so many live new shooters.
Since it seems to be important for Preakness candidates to have run well in the Derby, or to have skipped the Derby to point for the Preakness following a good effort in another top stakes race, horses that have good chances in Preakness based on this angle include the first-, second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby, plus select new shooters who finished in the money in a major prep race (including, for example, the Wood Memorial, or for fillies, the Kentucky Oaks). Since there are no top-4 finishers from the Derby entering the Preakness other than California Chrome, it is these top new shooters we must focus on this year.
More than likely, the Preakness winner and perhaps the entire Preakness trifecta and superfecta will be made up of California Chrome and this group of new shooters who’ve hit the board in major stakes.
Last year in 2013, when Oxbow exited a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby to go on and win the Preakness, he bucked this trend of course. However, in so doing, he also breathed new life into a worthwhile handicapping angle that should be factored into your Preakness handicapping whenever possible.
In the Preakness, Oxbow was getting off the rail in the Kentucky Derby, and everyone that handicaps the Derby knows just what a disaster the far inside posts are in the 20-horse gate for the Derby. The fact that Oxbow even went on to run as well as he did in the Run For the Roses – finishing sixth – was a great accomplishment from Post 1, and pointed him out as a horse to reckon with at Pimlico.
Summary and Wagering Strategy: If you want to bet Kentucky Derby horses than finished out of the superfecta, wait for the Belmont, because they very rarely make a dent in the Preakness. When filling out your Preakness exotic tickets, limit your selections to California Chrome from out of the Derby, and select new shooters coming out of in-the-money finishes in major prep races (unless any of the above have drawn the rail in the Preakness).
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER – BETTING THE PREAKNESS
When we boil it all down, the wise rules of play for handicappers to focus on in the Preakness are:
1) Horses that have the correct Preakness running style, i.e. horses with speed and tactical speed, plus pressers and stalkers no farther back than mid-pack.
2) Narrow the field down further by eliminating the rail horse from your win bets and limiting the use of that horse in your other exotic wagers.
3) Bet the Derby winner and standout new shooters coming off an in-the-money finish in a major Triple Crown prep race.
Find the horses that fit into all three of the categories listed above. If possible, key a horse, or horses, on top that qualify under all three of the rules of play listed above. Box all contenders in the exactas, trifectas, and superfectas. Structure your bets to give preference to horses breaking from the outer half of the field. In a 10-horse Preakness field like the one projected this year, make additional exotics boxes on the horses breaking from the outside half of the field in posts 6-10, because those posts are trending far better than inside posts yet almost always offer better betting value.
Follow those rules, and you should be on your way to a profitable 2014 Preakness.
Even if Maryland racing is not your forte, the racing at Pimlico is worth paying attention to, and well worth watching and wagering for all serious horseplayers – especially during Preakness weekend. Enjoy the races leading up to the Preakness Stakes. I hope you crush the Preakness and the other races at Pimlico on Friday and Saturday. Good luck and good racing at Pimlico!