May At Pimlico - Spotlight On Maryland Racing


By Noel Michaels

The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, this year will be run at Saturday, May 19 - two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. With the Kentucky Derby winner and many other top 3-year-olds heading to Baltimore in addition to a lot of other top horses and horsemen during the two weeks leading up to the Preakness, this is the perfect time for handicappers to start turning their attention to Pimlico as Maryland racing returns to national prominence as the Preakness Stakes draws near.

The Pimlico race meet is not what it once was due to the fact that more and more of Maryland's race dates have moved to Laurel in recent years. These days, the Pimlico season is a short and sweet seven weeks of racing highlighted by the two weeks of May racing following the Kentucky Derby and leading up to the Preakness Stakes. The majority of Pimlico's stakes races will be run during this time, including a giant glut of stakes that will be run Preakness weekend on Friday and Saturday, May 18-19. Friday, May 18 is Black-Eyed Susan Day, which kicks off a fantastic two-days of racing at Pimlico and includes a Black-Eyed Susan-Preakness Daily Double bet hooking up the Friday and Saturday features.

The 2012 Preakness expects a full field of 14 horses including Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another. Other horses exiting the Derby that are considered possible or probable for the Preakness include runner-up Bodemeister, fourth-place finisher Went the Day Well, fifth-place finisher Creative Cause, sixth-place finisher Liason, seventh-place finisher Union Rags, ninth-place finisher Hansen, and 11th-place finisher Optimizer.

Possible new shooters for the Preakness include the winner and second-place finisher of the Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico, Pretension and Brimstone, the winner and second-place finishers from the Derby Trial, Hierro and Paynter, Jerome Stakes winner The Lumber Guy, plus Cozzetti and Tiger Walk.

Everyone in Maryland will be crossing their fingers for good weather during these two weeks, too, because in addition to hoping and praying for a sunny Preakness Day, more key turf races will be run at Pimlico during these two weeks than perhaps the whole rest of the year combined.

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 from now until Preakness Day 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 while cashing 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 is, in fact, generally 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.

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.

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.

At the current 2012 Pimlico race meet, which began on March 28, 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 who 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.

Daily Track Bias Notes - 2012 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 2012 season at Pimlico:

May 5 - Outside advantage
May 4 - Speed bias
April 29 - Had to be on or close to the pace
April 28 - Helped to be on or close
April 27 - Closers rally wide bias
April 26 - Speed bias
Apr. 21 - 5 of 7 races won on the pace
Apr. 19 - Helped to be on or close
Apr. 12 - Outside advantage
Apr. 7 - Helped to be on or close
Apr. 6 - Helped to be on or close
Apr. 5 - Had to be on or close

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 current starts.

A Note About Jockeys and Trainers

When you are handicapping Pimlico at this time of year - especially on Preakness weekend, looking at the track's list of top jockeys and trainers can be a bit misleading. The meet's top jockeys and top trainers lose their significance during mid-May because the track becomes inundated with new blood and a new flood of both equine and human talent coming in to pick up many of the better purses when the world is watching. The usual Pimlico suspects can do well - especially when you consider Pimlico horses for the course. However, the allowance and stakes races usually start to draw invading horses from invading stables that can often beat the local competition.

Even if Maryland racing is not your forte, May racing at Pimlico is worth paying attention to, and well worth watching and wagering for all serious horseplayers. Enjoy the weeks leading up to Preakness Stakes Day - and good luck and good racing at Pimlico!


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