Preakness Preview

PREAKNESS HANDICAPPING PREVIEW: 
THREE FACTORS TO HELP NARROW DOWN THE CONTENDERS

By Noel Michaels

On the heels of Animal Kingdom's Kentucky Derby upset, most handicappers already have a firm opinion of him, either for or against, in the Preakness and beyond.

Beyond simple first impressions about the Preakness contenders, handicappers can also take a look at several angles and recent trends that have impacted the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown for additional clues to who will win and who else can finish in the money. I've won this race eight times in the last fourteen years, including Lookin At Lucky $6.80 last year and the $39.20 exacta of Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. I think we've got a terrific opportunity to get a big price this time around and you can click here to be with me.

Handicapping the Preakness Card
First off, let's look at a couple of misconceptions that often affect how horseplayers handicap 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 odds dimensions, which includes 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, 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 inside posts (or the rail for that matter) are any better than any other post in the middle or even the outside of the 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 recent changes in the Pimlico surface brought about by Pimlico's track superintendents since the track was taken over by Magna.

This 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 good prices and 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 increasing 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, and are currently basically no different than at any other race track.

Startlingly though, 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 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 becoming a thing of the past.

And so, knowing what we know, let's try to apply some information to the Preakness Stakes so we can increase our likelihood of picking the in-the-money finishers.

Preakness Post Positions
Based on the statistics noted above, commonly held beliefs about the negative impact of outside draws in the Preakness are false, with the small exception of the rarely-used posts 13 and 14.

Instead of subscribing to these false beliefs, stick to the following three points when it comes to Preakness post positions; 1) You don't want the rail post; 2) In the rare occasions where there are more than 12 entrants, horses that draw outside post 12 have been immediate toss-outs; and, 3) There is very little advantage or disadvantage associated with any other post position from 2 through 12.

Handicappers who are armed with these three facts could very well have an edge over other horseplayers, who still falsely cling to the belief that Pimlico (and specifically the Preakness) is significantly biased toward the inside at the Preakness's distance of 1-3/16 miles.

With the exception of the obviously dreadful (and rarely relevant) posts 13 and 14, the inside gates seem to hold absolutely no advantage over the outside posts in the Preakness Stakes (note that Rachel Alexandra won from post 13 in 2009, but also note that this year's far outside runners – Concealed Identity and Mr. Commons – are hardly horses of the same quality as the 2009 Horse of the Year).

Moreover, it should be noted that the rail post itself is just about the worst possible place your horse can break from in the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown.  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 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. Moreover, a total of 58 races have been run at Pimlico at the distance of 1 3/16 miles from 1976 to 2007, with the rail horse winning only 4 of those races (6% wins).

As for the other outside posts that everyone in the Preakness always tries to avoid, statistics show that, if anything, the outside has actually been the best place to be in recent Preakness runnings!  Recent Preakness winners breaking from posts 8 and outward include 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.

Last year, Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky broke from post 7 and runner-up First Dude came from post 11.  In 2009, the outside was good again as even the 13 post could not stop Rachel Alexandra

There is money to be made at Pimlico by handicappers who bet against Pimlico's traditional inside bias of years past. Inside horses in the Preakness are always overbet, and that means horses breaking from middle and outside posts usually offer overlay odds and good wagering value.

Summary: Eliminate #1 Astrology, #13 Concealed Identity, and #14 Mr. Commons

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 an early speed horse laying no more than a few lengths off the early lead at the first call. Even when Preakness winners of the last decade 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 no later than on the backstretch. Afleet Alex and Curlin were rare examples of horses who won the Preakness with a true late closing running style.

Based on Preakness results of the last decade or so, you don't necessarily want to bet on a horse who needs the lead in the Preakness, but you also don't want to bet a horse that is likely to fall too far back off the early pace, either. Ideally, you are looking for a horse with some amount of tactical speed who figures to press or stalk the pace as the horse you want to bet on in the Preakness.

Summary: Give the advantage to mid-pack pressers and stalkers this year such as #3 King Congie, #6 Sway Away,#7  Midnight Interlude,#9  Mucho Macho Man, and #11 Animal Kingdom

Recent Form Matters in the Preakness
After post position and running style, the third and final most relevant handicapping factor bettors should key on when making their Preakness wagers is where the horse came from and what the horse did in its last race.

Of the 14 Preakness winners from 1997 to 2010, eight were Derby winners, two had hit the board in the Derby, and three had skipped the Derby entirely in order to point 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 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 either run at least fairly well in the Derby or skip the Derby and point for the Preakness following a good effort in another top stakes race, horses that have good chances in this year's Preakness based on this angle include Derby first-, third-, and fourth-place finishers Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, and Shackleford, as well as new shooters like King Congie (third in Blue Grass), and Dance City (third in Arkansas Derby).  More than likely, the Preakness winner and perhaps the entire Preakness trifecta and superfecta will be made up from among this group.

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, Hansel came along way back in 1991 –20 years ago.

Summary: This trend is not good news for a horse like Midnight Interlude (another Baffert trainee), who will have 20 years of history going against him as he tries to rebound from his Kentucky Derby 16th-place finish. Other Preakness horses with this angle working against them include Norman Asbjornson (4th in Wood Memorial), Flashpoint (4th in Florida Derby), Sway Away (4th in Arkansas Derby). This is also not good news this year for Dialed In.

So finally, when we boil it all down, the wise things for handicappers to key on in the Preakness are horses that are exiting good efforts in the most recent race that have the correct Preakness running style – not setting the pace, but not too far back, either. Once you get your contenders based on those factors, narrow the field down further by eliminating the rail horse and the horse breaking from post 13 and 14. If that still leaves you with too many contenders, give preference to horses breaking from the outer half of the field posts 8-12, because those posts have done better recently yet almost always offer value odds because too many other handicappers spend too much time fixating on the outdated notion that inside posts are better than outside posts in the Prerakness. I'll be ready with my 1-2-3-4 order of finish. You can join me for just the Preakness, or for even better value get with me for the entire Saturday full card. Click here to learn more and make your choice. Whatever you choose, it's going to be a big day of moneymaking and whether you're following the guidelines laid out here, or going straight to the source and getting my personal selections, OTB Learning Labs always gives you the best way to get the money.

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