Submitted by Noel Michaels on Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM
BET PIMLICO ON PREAKNESS WEEKEND!
By Noel Michaels
The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, will be run at Saturday, May 18 – in its usual spot two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. With the Kentucky Derby winner and eight 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 six Graded stakes, this is the perfect time for handicappers to turn their attention to Pimlico.
The Pimlico meet is in full swing now and has featured a strong outside track bias for much of the meet to date, which will be valuable for handicappers to take note of because so many 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 whole Pimlico meet. Friday, May 17 is Black-Eyed Susan/Pimlico Special Day, which kicks-off a fantastic two-days of racing at Pimlico that will be tied together by a Pimlico Special/Preakness Daily Double bet hooking-up both the Friday and Saturday features.
The Preakness weekend action starts early at 12 noon on Friday at Pimlico, where the revamped $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes headlines a 13-race card that also includes the G3, $300,000 Pimlico Special. The highly-bettable stakes action begins with the Skipat Stakes and the Miss Preakness and ends in race 13 with the Hilltop Stakes. In between there will be an all-stakes Pick 4 including the Very One Stakes, the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, and of course the Black-Eyed Susan Pimlico Special.
Friday’s race card will lead nicely into the Pimlico meet’s headline event on Saturday, May 18 – Preakness Day. The Preakness card – the usual total of 13 races beginning at 10:45 a.m. Eastern time – will include a multitude of undercard stakes races and is annually one of the year’s best race cards anywhere and at any time.
Preakness Day will be a day of five 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, $300,000 Dixie Stakes on the turf. Three more ungraded stakes and a starter handicap will also on the card $100,000 Chick Lang Stakes (formerly the Hirsch Jacobs), the Rollicking Stakes, the James W. Murphy Stakes, 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 including the Chick Lang Stakes, the James W. Murphy, the Dupont Distaff, and then the Preakness.
The 2013 Preakness expects a much less than full field of 9 horses including Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Other horses exiting the Derby hoping for a rematch in the Preakness include a somewhat disappointing line-up of five Derby also-rans including fifth-place finisher Mylute, sixth-place finisher Oxbow, eighth-place finisher Will Take Charge, 15th-place finisher Itsmyluckyday, and 17th-place finisher Goldencents.
The list of new shooters for the Preakness is even shorter, but does include a pair of intriguing challengers who won major stakes races this spring – Departing (Illinois Derby winner) and Govenor Charlie (Sunland Derby). Departing was pointed to the Preakness all along by trainer Al Stall after finishing third in the Louisiana Derby, which became somewhat of a key race in the Kentucky Derby when the second- third- and fifth-place finishers all exited the Louisiana Derby. Departing was actually ahead of Derby runner-up Golden Soul at the Fair Grounds, and then he improved further last time when winning by 3 lengths at Hawthorne. In the case of Govenor (sic) Charlie, his Derby bid was derailed by some foot problems all throughout April, but that trouble seems to be behind him and his trainer, Bob Baffert, through the years has compiled an amazing record in the Preakness dating back to 1997.
The field will be rounded out by the final new shooter, Titletown Five, who is distance-challenged and seems to be only a pace factor at best based on his poor showing last time out in the Derby Trail at Churchill.
When it comes to the Preakness and Preakness Day, Pimlico generally has not been a haven for longshots in recent years. Nevertheless, there are great betting opportunities for horseplayers on the Friday and Saturday of Preakness weekend as a lot of new betting money comes into the Maryland circuit at this time of year from players who otherwise don’t pay much attention to the Pimlico-Laurel circuit. Also, even though the trend on Preakness Day points toward chalk, that doesn’t mean that astute horseplayers can’t play the race and the day profitably. You can still cash more than enough winning tickets to make a difference.
One good place to start when handicapping Pimlico is simply to focus on a few key factors such as the Pimlico main track’s winning profile and the myth of Pimlico’s tighter turns and the old inside bias that is now a thing of the past. Play the right way, and you can find plenty of value-priced overlays while at the same time eliminating several money-losing pretenders.
PIMLICO’S SO-CALLED TIGHER TURNS
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’s layout. The turns may appear different to other tracks based on Pimlico’s odd dimensions that include a very long stretch run which 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, since 2005, they have been only half right. Pimlico has, in fact, generally been a speed-biased track (case-in-point: Shackleford’s Preakness victory on the pace in 2011). 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 – including at the Preakness’s 1 3/16-mile distance.
However, in recent years Pimlico really has shown very little statistical indication that the rail, and any of the inside posts for that matter, are any better than any other post in the middle or even the outside part of the starting gate. Old-timers probably always have, and always will, stick to their guns with the inside posts at Pimlico, but that bias has been all-but-erased thanks to changes in the Pimlico surface brought about by the track’s current superintendents since the track was taken over by Magna.
This perceived inside bias, or lack thereof, is important for horseplayers to note when handicapping Pimlico, however, 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, handicappers are often left with good prices and overlay odds on the horses breaking from the middle or outside gates.
Daily Track Bias Notes – 2013 Pimlico Meet
In terms of running style, Pimlico is basically your typical dirt surface that is susceptible to daily changes in track bias, either in terms of inside/outside favoritism or in terms of speed or come-from-behind bias.
Here is my personal listing of daily track biases noted so far at the 2013 meet at Pimlico:
Pimlico Track Biases (Apr. 4 – May 12)
May 12 – Outside lanes preferred on ‘fast’ but drying track
May 11 – Outside bias races 1-7; strong inside bias when sloppy/sealed races 8-11
May 9 – Inside good!
May 5 – Outside bias
May 4 – Outside advantage
May 3 – Outside advantage
May 2 – Strong outside rally wide bias
Apr. 28 – Outside rally wide bias
Apr. 27 – Outside bias
Apr. 26 – Outside bias
Apr. 25 – Outside bias
Apr. 21 – Outside good
Apr. 20 – Slow deep rail
Apr. 19 – Outside bias, dead rail
Apr. 12 – Outside advantage
Apr. 5 – Strong outside rally wide bias
Apr. 4 – Outside preferred
When you see horses coming back to run in the week or so leading up to the Preakness and on Preakness Day who are exiting recent outings at Pimlico, cross reference their past performances with the list of track biases listed above. If you see a horse exiting an against-the-bias effort, upgrade their chances next time, and conversely, if you see a horse exiting a with-the-bias effort last time, downgrade those horses’ good efforts when handicapping them in their next starts.
PIMLICO’S WINNING TRACK PROFILE
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. In recent race meets run at Pimlico, sprints did show a slight predilection toward speed, but the numbers are slowly deviating more and more toward the average each year.
The surprising news comes in two-turn routes at Pimlico, where 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 middle and outside posts actually have performed nominally better on occasion 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 is especially true at the 2013 meet where the outside bias has often hurt the performances of horses breaking from inside posts.
At the current 2013 Pimlico race meet, which began on April 4, posts 9 and outward haven’t done well on the main track, but all other posts have played fair. This also holds true for the turf course, which has played fairly at all distances including in 5F turf sprints. Therefore, when you see an overlay odds horse from an outside post that is being overlooked all or in part due to its post position, pounce on that horse and take advantage of all the uninformed extra money coming in on horses drawn inside.
PREAKNESS HANDICAPPING THOUGHTS
Orb will travel to Baltimore the week the Preakness and will be a heavy favorite in the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown. Recent history tells us that the Preakness is the last possible place you would want to look for a longshot, but this year looks like no sure thing despite the expected low odds on the Derby winner, because Orb has a deep-closing running style that usually is not the key to success in the Preakness.
Based on Preakness results of the last decade or so, you don’t really want to bet a horse that is likely to fall too far back off the early pace. 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 an early speed horse, either on the lead or laying no more than a few lengths off at the first call.
Orb, therefore, might have to close from too far off the pace to be in an ideal spot to win the Preakness. Will his deep closing style be set-up by enough early pace this year, or can Orb’s running style be tweaked a bit for the Preakness, keeping him a little closer to the pace than usual in order to suit the winning profile of this race? We’ll have to wait and see.
The pace knock against Orb, however, might just end up being insignificant. That’s because the same knock might exist against the horse that figures to be Orb’s top challenger. Departing also must come from off the pace, but perhaps not quite as far back as Orb. This could set the Preakness up for a major upset from a live front-runner or stalker. Otherwise, this year’s Preakness will be bucking the pace trend of recent years, with either Orb or Departing closing from off-the-pace en route to victory.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the projected favorites. There are recent trends in their favor, as well. Many handicappers would argue that the most relevant handicapping trend bettors should key on when making their Preakness wagers is a horse’s current form – how well did the horse do in its last race?
The Preakness has been dominated by chalk for more than a decade. Of the 16 Preakness winners from 1997 to 2012, 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.
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, you can more than likely find the Preakness winner and perhaps the entire Preakness trifecta with just this angle alone. This year, this group only includes Orb, Departing, and Govenor Charlie.
The also-rans from the Kentucky Derby have been the absolute worst bets in the Preakness in recent years. However, this group could well attract some attention this year and perhaps rightfully so. Many of the horses in the group of Derby also-rans this year just so happen to fit the winning pace profile of the Preakness as horses who will be on or close to the pace, including Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday, and Goldencents.
No doubt, Departing will be the primary challenger to Orb and the race should be bet accordingly – that duo should be included in every one of your Preakness exacta, trifecta, and superfecta combinations. On the other end of spectrum, horses that really appear to be hopeless in the Preakness include the D. Wayne Lukas duo of Will Take Charge (Derby also-ran and wrong running style) and Titletown Five (can’t go the distance). I also can’t blame those who put Mylute into this group. He finished out of the Derby superfecta and has the wrong late-closing running style.
Beyond that group of obvious contenders and bad longshots is a group of other horses that could threaten in the Preakness, at least in the exactas, trifectas, or superfectas.
I suggest keying Orb and Departing, and using them with Bob Baffert’s Govenor Charlie plus the above-mentioned group of horses with the correct early pace running style – Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday, and Goldencents – and bet them in the exotics in the combinations best capable of making you the most money.
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 this week. Enjoy the races leading up to the Preakness Stakes. I hope you hit Orb and had a successful Kentucky Derby Day, and either way, I hope you crush the Preakness and the other races at Pimlico on Friday and Saturday. Good luck and good racing at Pimlico!