GREAT RACING AND WAGERING PREAKNESS WEEK AT PIMLICO
GREAT RACING AND WAGERING PREAKNESS WEEK AT PIMLICO
The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, will be run Saturday, May 21 - in its usual spot two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. With the Kentucky Derby winner and a nearly-full starting gate of other 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 2016 Preakness could feature an 11-12 horse field led by undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. This running of the Preakness is stacking-up as very unusual, in that most of the field will be made-up of new shooters with very few also-rans from the Kentucky Derby taking another shot at Nyquist at Pimlico. From the Derby, Nyquist's only repeat challengers will be runner-up Exaggerator and ninth-place finisher Lani. Third-place finisher Gun Runner is considered "possible."
The rest of the Preakness field will be made up of new shooters, including both Kentucky Derby also-eligibles, Cherry Wine and Laoban. Cherry Wine, trained by Dale Romans, was fourth in the Rebel and third in the Blue Grass. Laoban, trained by Eric Guillot, has had a solid year so far, placing third in the Sham Stakes, second in the Gotham, and fourth in the Blue Grass.
The remaining six Preakness probables include Awesome Speed, Collected, Dazzling Gem, Fellowship, Stradivari, and Uncle Lino. The most interesting of that group looks like the Bob Baffert-trained Collected, who won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his last start but was excluded from the Kentucky Derby with not enough qualifying points. The Todd Pletcher-trained Stradivari also has merits, winning two of his three starts so far including a Keeneland allowance that he won off a layoff with a 100 Beyer speed figure.
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, which contains the majority of the stakes races to be run during the entirety of the Pimlico meet.
Friday, May 20 is Black-Eyed Susan/Pimlico Special Day, which kicks-off a fantastic two-days of racing at Pimlico. Friday and Saturday, May 20-21, will feature 15 of the 16 stakes races to be contested at Pimlico this year.
The Preakness weekend action at Pimlico starts early on Friday, where the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes headlines a 14-race card that also includes 7 stakes races. The co-feature will be the $300,000 Pimlico Special, and the highly-bettable undercard includes races like the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, the Miss Preakness, the Skipat Stakes, the Rollicking Stakes, the Hilltop Stakes, and the Dupont Distaff.
Friday's race card will lead nicely into the Pimlico meet's headline event on Saturday, May 21 - 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, $250,000 Dixie Stakes on the turf. Four more ungraded stakes will also be on the card, including the 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 ending with the Preakness. There will also be a $500,000 guaranteed pool Pick 5 for 50-cents that ends with the Preakness. Pimlico's Pick 5 features a low 12% takeout.
Get in on the action Preakness weekend at Pimlico - one of the best weekends of the year in Thoroughbred racing!
THE 2016 PREAKNESS
I believe the 2016 Preakness Stakes could feature an upset. Taking nothing away from Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, who is undefeated and realistically could become racing's second Triple Crown winner in as many years, I think you have to bet against him at low odds (likely a 3-5 morning line). Despite the fact that Nyquist looks like a "real-deal" Derby winner, cases can be made for Exaggerator and several of the new shooters. Unlike last year when American Pharoah beat one of the best 3-year-old crops in many years, Nyquist won his Derby against one of the worst fields ever. He ran almost every step of the way in the Derby, and perhaps that race took something out of him and opens the door for a fresher new shooter. Normally this is the angle for betting an upset in the Belmont Stakes, but perhaps this year it could pertain to the Preakness.
All challengers in the Preakness will go off at value odds on the tote board. Below is a list of the main challengers to Nyquist in the Preakness along with the cases that can be made for them in Baltimore.
- Exaggerator (2nd in Kentucky Derby) - Resounding Santa Anita Derby winner had to rally from far back in the Kentucky Derby, and his 15th-to-2nd closing effort was indeed impressive. He'll be a little closer to the pace in the Preakness, and won't have as much traffic to get around at Pimlico. On the minus side, however, is the fact that his running style does not generally fit the winning Preakness profile, because most Preakness winners come from closer to the pace.
- Lani (9th in Kentucky Derby) - Japanese winner of the UAE Derby ran a solid effort in the Kentucky Derby despite being compromised when getting shut off after a slow break. With a clean start in the Preakness, he could do much better. On the negative side, however, Preakness also-rans that were out of the superfecta in the Derby rarely come back to win or hit the exacta in the Preakness.
- Collected (Won Lexington Stakes) - Was impressive in his victory in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in an effort that was too little too late to get him enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Nevertheless, he seems to stack-up favorably against this year's Preakness field, and certainly has the right connections on his side from the barn of multiple Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. Has been pointed to the Preakness all along, and he'll be fresh and ready to roll at Pimlico.
- Laoban (4th in Blue Grass) - He's been dancing every dance this winter/spring and has hit the superfecta in prep races in California, New York, and Kentucky. Don't underestimate him based on his fourth-place finish in the Blue Grass, it was actually an impressive effort as the only pace horse in the race still left standing at the end in a race otherwise dominated by closers. Wanted to run in the Derby but was excluded with not enough points, but that could be a fortunate turn for this horse whose best Triple Crown hopes clearly lie in the Preakness Stakes. Has the right on-or-close to the pace running style, and should be a good price.
- Stradivari (won Keeneland allowance race) - He's late to the party, but certainly does not seem light on talent after having returned from a layoff to crush allowance horses at Keeneland with a 100 Beyer speed figure. In a year where not a lot of 3-year-olds have posted triple-digit Beyers, that figure makes you stand up and take notice, especially because it came off a layoff and especially because the horse's trainer is Todd Pletcher.
Will Nyquist continue his march toward a date with destiny in New York at the Belmont Stakes, or will he be knocked-off in a Preakness upset? 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 ability, and anything can happen if Nyquist is not at his best.
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 American Pharaoh last year, and 2014 winning favorite California Chrome, comprising the last two Preakness winners, 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 - based on post position and running style - 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 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:
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 they are 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, but 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 in races run 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.
Of course, this angle came to an end for many handicappers in 2015 when eventual winner American Pharoah won from post 1. But the reality is that a horse like American Pharoah has literally not come around for a generation, and before his winning race, even his trainer, Bob Baffert, seemed concerned that the rail post draw could potentially derail his horse's Triple Crown chances when he said "You don't like to be on the inside, but we'll have to deal with it."
American Pharoah was good enough to overcome the rail in the Preakness, but most horses are not - even good (but not great) horses like Orb. 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.
Even with American Pharoah winning in 2015, there now have only been two Preakness winners from the rail post in the last 55 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. In fact, when Astrology bucked this trend by finishing third from the rail post in 2011, his feat did not receive nearly enough recognition, because he was a another rare exception to the rule.
While the inside did not affect American Pharoah, it could be argued it did work against third-choice Dortmund in the Preakness. He ran a disappointing race and finished fourth in a bad field behind Pharoah.
The trend against the inside posts at the distance at Pimlico reaches beyond just the Preakness. Going back 12 years at Pimlico, posts 1-2 at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles have an awful record in all races, with American Pharoah one of the very rare winners from posts 1-2 in those races. 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 12 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 the rail horse out of exactas.
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 18 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.
American Pharoah outclassed the 2015 Preakness field and led wire-to-wire. California Chrome pressed the pace en route to winning the 2014 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 2½ 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 speed or at least 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.
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!
By Noel Michaels
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