Honor among Preakness bettors

This Preakness feels like a harder race to figure and bet than was the Derby, for two good reasons.

1. The Derby was a washout, a throw-out, a video game. Nothing was learned, except who runs best in a crowd that is all wet. You knew a lucky number would be in the mix somewhere, and it won. At least at the Derby, the second through fifth finishers figured some.

2. Even though a person might not want to bet on Rachel Alexandra, you wouldn't mind seeing her win by seven; record handle, huge TV ratings, what's not to like about star power?

Any of eight, with reservations, could win the Preakness, any of all of them could fill in the rest of the spots: Bid Drama is coming off a rocket-fast sprint DQ; Mine That Bird was so surprising, his jockey flew away; Friesan Fire took the Derby off and has some explaining to do; trouble seems to envelop General Quarters; Pioneerof the Nile floated to the starboard side; Rachel Alexandra is markedly different from the rest; Papa Clem and Musket Man seem to be tactical images of one another and are eminently qualified to lunge into a six-way photo for second.

Here's the question that the responsible handicapper has to answer, here on Preakness day: Is it right to cheer against something that would be good for the sport of horse racing, a victory by the filly?

I have devised a compromise as it relates to wagering. Everybody knows what happens if you pass on a race, if you don't bet a race: whatever you would have bet will finish 1-2-3-4-5-6. You'll never be the same handicapper. You'll be filled with remorse, with doubt. Next thing you know you'll be at a slot machine sticking in fives and complaining about the state of things with a great-grandmother chain-smoking non-filters. You can't pass a Triple Crown race and call yourself a good fan.

The compromise is to put Rachel Alexandra and Big Drama on top in a speed-biased scenario, then pretend neither are in the race on your next round of handicapping. Long-gone speed at this track is apt to hang in there for part of the prize; and something long-striding and long-priced is frequently on the board behind the high-quality winning stalker. Paying a little more … it's for the good of the sport, you know?

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.