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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, May 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM


By Noel Michaels / OTBLearning

Almost as soon as Orb crossed the finish line as the winner of the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, the rest of the 2013 Triple Crown had already begun to take shape. Several of the Derby also-rans have started to make their plans for either the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes, and a few new shooters are already lining up to enter the Triple Crown fray in the Preakness.  As the fields for the second- and third-legs of the Triple Crown shape up, one thing is certain - barring injury, Orb will be on his way to Pimlico where he will attempt to take one more step to becoming the first Triple Crown winner in over 30 years.

Just like the horses and horsemen, handicappers can also make quick adjustments in terms of the rest of the Triple Crown based on the results of the Kentucky Derby.

Orb will head back to New York before travelling on to Baltimore where he is expected to be a heavily favored in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday, May 18.  Recent history tells us that the Preakness is the last possible place you would want to look for a longshot, but the Belmont Stakes is a totally different story altogether.

The most relevant handicapping trend bettors should key on when making their Preakness wagers is how well a horse did and where he did it in its last race.  As mentioned, 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 1) run well in the Derby, or 2) 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 first or second in a major prep race.  More than likely, the Preakness winner and perhaps the entire Preakness trifecta and superfecta will be made up of horses from these two groups.

Based on this angle, plus what we know about how horses performed in the Derby and what their plans might be, let’s try to formulate an early and tentative handicapping outlook for the Preakness.

Orb, the Derby winner, is obviously headed to the Preakness and must be used in all Preakness exotics tickets including all exactas and trifectas based in his domination in the Kentucky Derby for his fifth straight win, and based on the recent success of Derby winners in the Preakness.

The next best place to look for Preakness in-the-money finishers includes the rest of the Kentucky derby superfecta horses - Golden Soul, Revolutionary, and Normandy Invasion. This is where it gets tricky, however, because none of those three horses appears to be being pointed to the Preakness at this point. Revolutionary is reportedly being pointed straight to the Belmont and bypassing the Preakness. Normandy Invasion reportedly will be pointed toward a fall campaign where the Travers will be his ultimate goal.

Golden Soul at this stage, to me, must be considered either the horse to beat, or at least the prime challenger in the Belmont Stakes.

That leaves only a handful Kentucky Derby also-rans pointing to the Preakness, and as a group, Derby also-rans have been the absolute worst bets in the Preakness in recent years.  This group of bad bets in the 2013 Preakness looks like it will include Mylute (5th in the Derby), Oxbow (6th), Will Take Charge (8th), Itsmyluckyday (15th), and Goldencents (17th).

When Lookin At Lucky ran out of the Derby superfecta en route to winning the Preakness in 2010, he had a major excuse in that race after getting wiped out at the start from the impossible rail post (after that, he actually ran very well to get up for fifth).  Other than Lookin At Lucky, you have to go back to another Bob Baffert trainee, Point Given, who inexplicably finished fifth in the Derby in 2001, to find the last Preakness winner coming in off a sub-par Derby finish. Before that you go all the back to Louis Quatorze, who had thrown in a 16th-place clunker in the Derby before going wire-to-wire as the lone speed in the Preakness in 1996. Hansel is another example of a Preakness winner who totally flopped in the Derby. However, that win came way back in 1991 - now more than 20 years ago.

So, in order to fill-out the remainder of our Preakness exotics tickets along with Orb, we must look towards the second group of Preakness horses - the "new shooters" - in order to find our reasonable contenders.

Who will be this year’s new shooters? At this point it looks too early to tell exactly who will run in the Preakness, but a few horses immediately jump out at you as horses that fit the description of horses exiting wins in Derby prep races.

The most obvious horse fitting this description is Departing, the impressive winner of the Illinois Derby who deliberately skipped the Kentucky Derby in order to specifically point for the Preakness.  Before the Illinois Derby, Departing finished third in the Louisiana Derby - and that race now looks like somewhat of a key race on the road to the Kentucky Derby with Derby second-, third, and fifth-place finishers Golden Soul, Revolutionary, and Mylute all coming out of that race. Departing actually finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of Golden Soul in the Louisiana Derby, and then won the Illinois Derby by 3 lengths over a big field.

No doubt, Departing will be the primary challenger to Orb in the Preakness, and the race should be bet accordingly.

Also sufficiently fitting into the category of live new shooters will be Govenor Charlie, the winner of the Sunland Park Derby trained by Bob Baffert. The Bafferino has racked up a tremendous record of Preakness firsts and seconds over the years, and any horse of his must be respected highly at Pimlico.  The many knock on Govenor Charlie is that he’s battled hoof/foot problems in the month or so since his last race and has been treated at an equine facility while losing valuable training time.

The other horse to be strongly considered as a live new shooter is not nominated to the Triple Crown and is unsure to supplement. This is Pimlico’s impressive Federico Tesio winner Abstraction, who overcame a dead rail and drew off to a 2 ¼-length victory. Abstraction’s connections have not yet decided whether to consider paying the $100,000 supplemental fee to send the lightly-raced but talented up-and-comer to the Prerakness, so stay tuned.

The other new shooters being pointed to the Preakness may not really fall into the "live contender" category. These horses include well-beaten Tesio runner-up Heat Press, who was, in his defense, cooked in a speed duel en route to defeat. This list also includes Kentucky Derby AE Fear the Kitten, and interesting Derby undercard winner Bellarmine, who beat Risen Star Stakes runner-up Code West, who was exiting the aforementioned key race - the Louisiana Derby (where Code West finished 6th).

One final word about Orb in the Preakness: The Derby winner will be a strong favorite in the Preakness, and may well go on to win the race. However, he is certainly no sure thing based on his far-off-the-pace running style. 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 on the lead or laying no more than a few lengths off at the first call.

Even when Preakness winners of the last 15 years 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 who won the Preakness with a true late-closing running style.

The 2012 Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another, stalked and pressed the pace about 2 to 2½ lengths behind 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.

Two years ago, Animal Kingdom rallied from far back to finish second in the 2011 Preakness. He might have won if not for his disastrous start that left him far at the back of the pack early in the race.  It either says a lot about the strength of Animal Kingdom - or the lack of strength of the rest of the field - that he was even able to overcome his horrible start and still finish second, but either way, that bad start cost him the race. Even if Animal Kingdom wouldn’t have been a pace horse given a better start, he sure wouldn’t have been too far back, and definitely could have won the race as a stalker instead of a closer.

Orb, therefore, might have to close from too far off the pace to be in an ideal spot to win the Preakness. The pace knock against Orb, however, might be the same knock against his top challenger, Departing, who also must come from off the pace, but perhaps not quite as far back as Orb. This could either set the Preakness up for a major upset from a live front-runner or stalker, or else this year’s Preakness will be bucking the pace trend of recent years.

The final piece of the puzzle will come when post positions are drawn for the Preakness on May 15. Remember, when posts are concerned in the Pimlico, the outside half of the gate is the best place to be. You don’t want your horse to draw the far, far outside (posts 13-14), but you really, really don’t want to draw the rail, either.

I hope you hit Orb in the Kentucky Derby and had a successful Derby Day. Either way, it is not too soon to start plotting your strategy for the Triple Crown’s next big payday - the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.  Best of luck!

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