Great Racing Preakness Week at Pimlico

GREAT RACING AND WAGERING PREAKNESS WEEK AT PIMLICO

By Noel Michaels

The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, will be run Saturday, May 16 - 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 2015 Preakness expects a roughly a 12-horse field including Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah. Beyond just the exciting Derby winner, this year's Preakness figures to get a shot-in-the-arm as one of the best Preaknesses in recent memory with five of the top six finishers from the Kentucky Derby heading to Baltimore. Close-up second- and third-place finishers from the Derby, Firing Line and Dortmund, will be at Pimlico for a rematch, as will fifth- and sixth-place Derby finishers Danzig Moon and Materiality. Derby 10th-place finisher Carpe Diem will also be in the starting gate to give it another go.

The Preakness Day card -with a total of 14 races beginning at 10:30 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 15 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 Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness Daily Double bet hooking-up both the Friday and Saturday features.

The Preakness weekend action at Pimlico starts early on Friday, where the revamped $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes headlines a 14-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, the Rollicking Stakes, and the Hilltop Stakes.

Friday's race card will lead nicely into the Pimlico meet's headline event on Saturday, May 16 - 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, $150,000 Gallorette Handicap, and the G2, $400,000 Dixie Stakes on the turf. Four more ungraded stakes will also be on the card, including the $100,000 Chick Lang Stakes, The Very One Stakes, the James W. Murphy Stakes, and The Sir Barton.

Horseplayers will definitely have their eyes on a pair of big Pick 4s on the Preakness card, including a $300,000-guaranteed pool Early Pick 4 on races 2-5, and then of course the all-stakes $1.5 million-guaranteed Preakness Late Pick 4 on races 9-12 ending with the Preakness. There will also be a $500,000 guaranteed pool Pick 5 for 50-cents on races 9-13.

Get in on the action Preakness weekend at Pimlico - one of the best weekends of the year in Thoroughbred racing!

THE 2015 PREAKNESS

I believe the 2015 Preakness Stakes will be one of the best in recent memory. Despite the fact that American Pharoah looks like a "real-deal" Derby winner, cases can be made for a half-dozen other horses targeting the Preakness. As was stated several times in the media leading up to the Kentucky Derby, this is one of the best 3-year-old crops in many years. I believe this is true, and will be proven again in what should be a stellar Preakness in which an American Pharoah repeat is anything but a foregone conclusion.

The list of challengers for the Preakness, as mentioned at the top of this article, will include the second-, third-, fifth, and sixth-place finishers from the Kentucky Derby, plus 10th-place finisher Carpe Diem. New shooters for the 2015 Preakness include some interesting horses, including Divining Rod (Lexington Stakes winner), Competitive Edge (winner of the Pat Day Mile - formerly the Derby Trial), Bodhisatva (Federico Tesio winner), plus a pair of recent maiden winners.

Of the horses exiting the Kentucky Derby that are trying to turn the tables on American Pharoah and deny that horse a Triple Crown bid, below is a list of the main challengers, along with the cases that can be made for them based on excuses that may have had at Churchill Downs.

Firing Line (2nd in Kentucky Derby) - Had to battle for the early lead and still outlasted Dortmund to hold on for a good second in the Kentucky Derby, just one length behind American Pharoah. Firing Line was only put away by the eventual winner in deep stretch, and at the slightly shorter Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, perhaps things would have been reversed.

Dortmund (3rd in Kentucky Derby) - Set the pace in the Derby and never got off the rail all the way around the track en route to a third-place finish beaten three lengths. Let's face it, the rail path at Churchill Downs is really not the place to be, and hasn't been in the last several years. Was he on the worst part of the track for the entire 1.25 mile journey in the Kentucky Derby? Well if he was, his third-place finish was extraordinarily impressive. He was an undefeated 6-for-6 heading to Louisville, and his on-the-pace running style might play a lot better at Pimlico than it did at Churchill. With a running style advantage at Pimlico, he certainly has a chance to turn the tables in the Preakness.

Materiality (6th in Kentucky Derby) - Suffered a terrible trip in the Kentucky Derby from a terrible post position that totally eliminated his chances of winning after he broke slowly to begin the race last in the 18-horse field (normally he's a pace horse). The fact that he regrouped and rallied late to pass seven horses in the stretch at Churchill Downs shows that he can handle a distance better than most and received all the education he needed in the Derby after entering that race with just three races of career experience. The post position, break from the gate, and trip could and should be totally different in the Preakness, and that gives Materiality a great shot at a positive turnaround.

Carpe Diem (10th in Kentucky Derby) - His tenth-place finish in the Derby was a too-bad-to-be-true effort that was caused by his disastrous inside post draw from the two-hole, which wiped-out any chance he had. Besides getting buried down in one of the worst post positions in any race at any time of the year, the bad post also destroyed Carpe Diem's chances because it forced him to change his running style, hustling up toward the pace in order to stay out of trouble instead of being able to use his running style advantage and stalk the pace form mid-pack. With a better post draw in the Preakness, things could be much different.

Will American Pharoah continue his march toward a date with destiny in New York at the Belmont Stakes, or will he be upset in the Preakness? 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. This group of Preakness also-rans and new shooters has talent and proven ability, and the past stakes victories to prove 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, including 2014 winning favorite California Chrome, 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 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 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, according to the statistics from Pimlico in races run at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles. In fact, just the opposite is true, it is the inside posts that are putrid in the Preakness.

Each year at the Preakness post draw, the big story seems to be about everyone trying to avoid the far outside posts. In truth, posts 13 and 14 are rarely even relevant in the Preakness, and a horse can win from out there if it is good enough, just like Rachel Alexandra did from post 13 in 2009.

Not only don't the inside gates hold an advantage over the middle and outside posts in the Preakness, they are actually strong disadvantages, both according to statistics from recent Preakness runnings, and from more recent statistics compiled from Pimlico the last few years at the 1 3/16-mile distance.

Moreover, it should be noted that the rail post is the worst place your horse can break from in the Preakness, and is one of the worst possible places your horse can break from in any race all year long.

Handicappers all seem to acknowledge the rail disadvantage in the Kentucky Derby, but mostly everyone overlooks it in the Preakness. This angle paid tremendous dividends in 2013, because it helped to eliminate the Preakness favorite, Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who drew the Preakness death rail and 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 has come from the rail since Belly Ache in 1960.

That means there has only been one Preakness winner from the rail post in the last 54 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 against the inside posts at the distance at Pimlico reaches beyond just the Preakness. Going back 10 years at Pimlico, posts 1-2 at the Preakness distance are 0-for-36. In 2014, California Chrome (post 3 at odds of 1-2) became the only winner even to break from one of the four inside posts winner at Pimlico at the Preakness distance since 2011. By comparison, only eight horses have started from posts 12-13 at 1 3/16 miles in the last 10 years, two of them won.

As for the other outside posts that everyone always tries to avoid in the Preakness for some unknown reason, statistics show that 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 the aforementioned 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 broke from the outside half of the field.

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.

Betting Angle: Horses breaking from middle and outside posts have the best chances to win at Pimlico at the Preakness distance of 1-3/16 miles, and usually offer good wagering value. Downgrade the inside horses (1-4), and 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. In this department, unlike the myth of the inside bias, the commonly held notion that speed and tactical speed are good at Pimlico have proven to be correct.

With the notable exceptions of the dynamic Afleet Alex, who rallied from 10th place to win the 2005 Preakness despite clipping heels and nearly falling, and Curlin, who came from sixth to win the Preakness in 2007 after drawing the terrible two-hole in the Derby, 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 17 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.

California Chrome pressed the pace en route to winning last year's Preakness. Speed was also king in the 2013 Preakness, when Oxbow won the race wire-to-wire at 15-1 odds, and the other two pace horses in the race, Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, held on for second and third.

The 2012 Preakness winner, I'll Have Another, stalked and pressed the pace about 2 to 2.5 lengths behind the leader en route to victory over the front-running Bodemeister. Anyone who boxed the four pace-setters that year would have also hit the exacta and trifecta with third-place finisher Creative Cause.

Betting Angle: 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, pace-pressers, and stalkers, and don't bet horses that must close from further back than mid-pack.  Use no more than one off-the-pace horse in your exotics, and limit that horse's use to the underneath positions.

3) BET OFF-THE-INSIDE DERBY HORSES IN THE PREAKNESS
One of the only recent times a price horse won the Preakness was in 2013 with Oxbow. He was exiting a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He breathed new life into another 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 who handicaps the Derby knows just what a disaster the far inside posts (1-3) are in the 20-horse gate at Churchill Downs. The fact that Oxbow even went on to run as well as he did in the Run For the Roses was a great accomplishment from Post 1, and pointed him out as a horse to respect at Pimlico.

The 2013 Preakness was not the only recent time this "Off-the-Rail" angle worked in the second jewel of the Triple Crown. When Lookin At Lucky ran out of the Derby superfecta but then turned the tables and won the Preakness in 2010, he also had this same major excuse. Plus, not only did he break from the Derby death rail, but he also got wiped-out at the start in that race. After the poor beginning, he actually ran very well to get up for fifth.

Since this angle has now worked in 2 of the last 5 Preakness Stakes, let's incorporate this into the profile of what we're looking for on Preakness Day.

Betting Angle: If you want to bet Kentucky Derby also-rans, wait for the Belmont, because they very rarely make a dent in the Preakness. The exception to this is when you can find a horse that is getting off the terrible rail post in the Kentucky Derby (unless they've drawn the rail again in the Preakness). All three inside posts (1-3) could potentially provide excuses for an also-ran finish in Louisville.

WRAP-UP
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 week. Enjoy the races leading up to the Preakness Stakes. I hope you crush the Preakness and the other races at Pimlico all week long. Good luck and good racing at Pimlico and in the Preakness!

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