When handicappers and bettors begin to analyze, probe and dissect the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, there are three important trends they need to consider.
First, and foremost, this race, unlike its two more prestigious partners -- the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes -- produces far fewer surprises. In fact, long shot winners in the Preakness are very much the exception rather than the rule.
That’s not saying the occasional “bomb” can’t spring an upset. It happened last year, in fact, when 12-1 Shackleford stalked the early pace behind Flash Point, took over at the top of the stretch and held off the determined run of Derby champion Animal Kingdom to win by a half length.
But, that marked the first time since Bernardini paid $27.80 in 2006 (when the ill-fated Barbaro, the favorite, broke down soon after the start) that the Preakness winner paid double figures.
The number of low-priced winners over the past dozen years has been staggering: Lookin at Lucky ($6.80 in 2010), Rachel Alexandra ($5.60 in 2009), Big Brown ($2.40 in 2008), Curlin ($8.80 in 2007), Afleet Alex ($8.60 in 2005), Smarty Jones ($3.40 in 2004), Funny Cide ($5.80 in 2003), War Emblem ($7.60 in 2002) and Point Given ($6.60 in 2001).
So, when the dozen or so horses line up Saturday for the the 137th running of the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., you can be pretty confident that the winner will come from one of the top four betting choices.
The main reason is that most of the horses in the field have already shown their true colors in the Kentucky Derby and there’s very little guesswork left when bettors are trying to sort out their true abilities. The Derby has a way of exposing horses’ strengths and weaknesses.
Trend No. 2 is that the winner is almost always a horse who ran in the Derby. Only three horses who have skipped (or couldn’t get into) the Kentucky Derby have won in the last 15 years. And, that’s not because new faces haven’t shown up for the race.
Over that same span, 91 non-Derby starters have lined up in the starting gate (54 percent) at Pimlico but just Red Bullet (2000), Bernardini (2006) and the super filly Rachel Alexandra (2009) were able to get the job done. Last year, nine fresh faces threw down the gauntlet to Animal Kingdom but none could crack the exacta as Shackleford and the Derby winner finished 1-2.
And, finally, the Preakness is run over a speed-favoring strip at Pimlico which, historically, has made it difficult for horses which don’t have early, tactical speed. The usually lightning-fast surface and the track’s tight turns hinder the come-from-behind types, making it almost impossible for them to mount any serious rallies late in the game. Horses either on the lead or close to the pace throughout definitely have an advantage.
So, with a probable field of 12 or 13 shaping up for this year’s race, the trends say the winner will be a horse who will be heavily bet, has early lick and who ran in the Derby.
Can you say Bodemeister?
Bob Baffert’s freakishly fast colt ran a monster race in the Derby, clicking off ridiculously fast fractions of :45 1/5, 1:09 4/5 and 1:35 while leading throughout, yet still hung tough until the final 100 yards before succumbing to I’ll Have Another’s relentless charge.
At the 16th pole (the distance of the Preakness, which is shorter than the Derby) he was still in front and striding out beautifully before he began to tire in the shadow of the finish line.
With the defections of Hansen and Trinniberg, both speedy colts who do their best racing on the lead, Bodemeister could have it all his own way on the front end and jockey Mike Smith can slow things down a bit and save the son of Empire Maker’s energy for the stretch run.
The Derby winner has early speed as well, however, as he showed in his wins in the Robert B. Lewis and Santa Anita Derby, so it doesn’t appear that he’s going to let Bodemeister out of his sights.
Creative Cause, who ran a sneaky good race while finishing fifth in the Derby, Went The Day Well (4th in Louisville) and, possibly, Daddy Nose Best, who flattened out and finished 10th at Churchill, could be primed for an upset as well.
But, if you look at the trends, Bodemeister, who figures to go off the betting favorite at 9-5 or lower, and the Derby champion, I’ll Have Another, the probable second choice at around 2-1, should be a very difficult tandem to beat on Saturday.
Who do I think will win the 137th Preakness? You can go to my web site www.tomthebombpicks.com to find out.
It should be another great race. Enjoy the spectacle!