With the 129th Preakness Stakes almost upon us, you've undoubtedly been hearing generalizations about the middle race of the Triple Crown. "Front-runners are great bets in the Preakness. Pimlico is always speed, speed, speed," says the guy who bets three races a year. "And look for the fresh horse, because the ones who ran in the Derby may be knocked out." Wrong and wrong, alleged expert.
Typically, the Preakness winner makes its move from just off the pace or from midpack and raced in the Kentucky Derby. In the past 20 runnings, only one winner (Louis Quatorze, 1996) went wire to wire, and only one had skipped the Derby (Red Bullet, 2000).
Since 1984, here's the profile of the horses that won the big one at Pimlico: Derby winner: 7 Beaten Derby favorite: 5 Third or worse in Derby, and not the Derby favorite: 7 Skipped the Derby: 1 Here's an obvious angle that has worked in five of the past 20 Preaknesses, though not since 1998: Box the Derby exacta at Pimlico. Of course, no self-respecting wise guy will tout a box of Smarty Jones and Lion Heart this Saturday, but it might be a wise saver play. Here's my horse-by-horse analysis of the Preakness:
It's kind of tough to knock a colt that's 7-for-7 and just dominated the Kentucky Derby. But if you didn't have him at 4-1 in Louisville, why hop on the bandwagon now and accept 8-5 or lower in Baltimore? The people's horse has run three consecutive career tops, and sooner or later he'll regress. As his trainer, John Servis, told the Daily Racing Form: "Horses are not machines. He's going to tail off eventually. When? I can't tell you." If he wins and goes for the Triple Crown, a great saga will roll on. I won't be betting on him, though, unless he's 5-2 or better, which is most unlikely.
Top-class front-runner will be gunning from the gate again. I think the sloppy, speed-favoring track on Derby Day carried this brilliant colt a bit farther than he wants to go, and I don't think he's a 1?-mile animal. He should get pressure up front this time, and I wonder how he'll handle it. Could be the underlay of the race, but he should lead at least until the top of the stretch. Never been worse than second, and that record may be in jeopardy.
Kristin Mulhall has done a terrific job with this overachiever, who clunked up late to be a non-threatening third in the Derby. Did he stay the distance or just dislike the off track less than those behind him? Since he has three in-the-money finishes in five starts on wet tracks, I think the surface had more to do with his completing the trifecta. Originally was going to skip the Preakness, but Mulhall persuaded owner Steve Taub to go. He's winless beyond a mile on fast tracks, and I think he'll be an underlay that finishes off the board.
Plodder is 0-for-4 in graded stakes and looks like the type who could slip into the triple or maybe even the exacta if the pace is hot and he gets a dream trip. Had no chance coming from far back at Churchill, and he's better than what he showed. If he's 12-1 or more, he's worth using in exotics, but I'd be amazed if he won the Preakness.
THE CLIFF'S EDGE
Before learning of his foot problem, I thought he had a good chance to bounce back at good odds in the Preakness. He was the excuse horse of the Derby,losing his front shoes and suffering a bad trip. Even in top condition, he would have had to run a career best to beat Smarty Jones this Saturday. I can't play him now and expect him to be scratched.
If he'd gotten into the Derby, I was going to pick him, but his low graded-stakes earnings kept him out. Maybe missing the race was the best thing that could have happened to him. He's been working very well at Belmont Park and he has the pedigree to love the 1 3/16-mile distance. He's never been out of the money but is 0-for-2 in graded stakes and has run erratically at times. Negative: With Jerry Bailey riding, he may get more action than he should. At 6-1 or better, I'll be interested in betting him, and he belongs in your exotics.
ROCK HARD TEN
You could hang out in paddocks for the next 10 years and never see a more impressive physical specimen than this colt. If they did a movie about Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, this mega-stud would be the model. He's been a buzz horse in California since before his career debut Feb. 7, and he hasn't done much wrong. Unfortunately, he's run only three times and almost certainly will get more play than he should. Like Eddington, he didn't get into the Derby because of a problem with graded-stakes earnings, which undoubtedly was a blessing. I expect big things from him down the road, but weigh his price at Pimlico with the risk/reward angle.
Every year a few locally based horses with no credentials pop up in the Preakness, and this no-hoper comes straight from central casting. Trained by Maryland regular Linda Albert, he needed seven starts to break his maiden against lousy fields. He won a very weak 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes last month at Pimlico, so here he is. Doesn't belong with the best of his generation, and I hope he doesn't get in anyone's way and compromise a contender's chances. No figures and no chance.
LITTLE MATTH MAN
Deep closer ran seventh in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct after plunking up for third in the quirky Lane's End at Turfway. He's in way over his head here, with one win in 10 tries on fast tracks. Would need lots of rain to have any chance to finish in the top half of the field. I hope he stays home.
SONG OF THE SWORD
He's 0-for-3 in graded stakes and hasn't won beyond a mile and 70 yards, yet he has some things going for him if you're playing superfectas and trifectas. He had troubled trips in the Illinois Derby and the Lexington, though the horses that won those stakes, Pollard's Vision and Quintons Gold Rush, ran 17th and 18th in the Derby. Will be a monstrous price, and if you like to stab, he might be worth including underneath in exotics.
If Nick Zito enters this speedy winner of the mile Derby Trial, it will be as a rabbit for stablemate The Cliff's Edge. He has enough early foot to put heat on Lion Heart and might affect the pace dynamic, but he can't win.