If you are reading this, it means that you made it through the First Saturday In May relatively unscathed, no minor accomplishment this particular year. For my money, Derby Day 2015's sports billing lived up to the hype, delivering an entertaining race, solid NBA lineup, and the much-ballyhooed, long-awaited conclusion to the bout for boxing's Middleweight Title unification.
Due to a technical glitch in the PPV broadcast, us east-coasters ended our Saturday on Sunday, at around 1:30 a.m., being made to sleep alone on the couch.
From a strictly horseracing perspective, the 140th Kentucky Derby was one of the most visually appealing of the Run For the Roses in a number of years. For a race that's often compromised by bad starts, excessive crowding and horses lugging in the stretch, this year's edition was relatively clean. The triumvirate of horses representing the most talent in the race ran 1-2-3 then entire way around the track, never relinquishing control of the trifecta. Even with this grouping leading the cavalry around the track, the thrilling stretch run featured three lead changes, in a style more befitting the Yankees' 4th inning Great Subway Race.
Alas, it's on to Baltimore. Our top three finishers (AMERICAN PHAROAH, FIRING LINE, DORTMUND) turn back together in what is already being billed as a grudge match amongst the "Big 3" (thanks, LeBron, for making everything the "Big 3"). And although The Preakness lacks much of the fanfare and hype associated with the Kentucky Derby, the networks and websites covering the race still have to sell ads. The Big 3 storyline appeals to the casual observer but it won't help you in any pari-mutuel capacity. So let's cut through the noise, squeegee off the betting window, and get to work.
The key to breaking down this year's Preakness lies within three important numbers: 105, 8, 32. Let's look at each individually before we pull it all together
Much is being made of the relatively slow 2:03.02 final time for AMERICAN PHAROAH in the Derby (particularly the 26.53 final quarter mile). No doubt, the final and split times are historically slow. However, he still earned a 105 Beyer Speed figure for the effort, matching his career best and 2nd only to Dortmund's 106 in the Santa Anita Derby among this year's Preakness entrants. Also, bear in mind that - just as last year - The Derby was run nearly three hours after the previous dirt race and, prior to a light coating after the walkover, the track hadn't been watered in almost two hours at post time. Put simply, A.P. was the fastest of an extremely talented group of 3 year-olds on Derby day. This horse is every bit as talented as he's made out to be.
As in, eight horses entered for the race. For the fifth time since 2000, the Preakness field will number nine or fewer. Turning back in two weeks is pretty tough and most trainers that are uncompetitive in the Derby prefer to skip the Preakness in order to give their horses more time to rest and recover. Horses are typically reserved for the Belmont Stakes, the summer stakes races in Saratoga, or a life of stud (awesome). Smaller fields generally means lower odds, and with a group of three horses that are seemingly a cut above the rest, finding value in this race will be difficult (see as example: AMERICAN PHAROAH a 4-5 morning line favorite). Difficult, but not impossible.
Before explaining the significance of this number (and if you are so inclined), watch a replay of the Kentucky Derby and see if you can figure out what happened 32 times during the race. I'll wait here...Figure it out? Good for you, eagle-eye! Thirty-two, the number of times AMERICAN PHAROAH was hit with the whip during the race. THIRTY-TWO TIMES! I realize that, without context, this number is meaningless. So, just take my word for it that this is an extremely high number of times for ANY horse to be whipped in a race (bordering on excessive). If this had been a claiming race at Santa Anita, Victor Espinoza would be suspended for 15 days. Instead, he'll saddle up and try to capture the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown. I'm not going to drone on with the minutia of what can happen to a horse that is pressed that heavily but, suffice it to say, this is a significant point of consideration when handicapping the Preakness, especially in light of that fact that his inside post position leaves him vulnerable to being pressured throughout the first half of the race by the other speed horses.
OK, ENOUGH...GET TO THE PICKS
Taking all of these factors into account, the 140th running of the Preakness will present the same types of handicapping difficulties as the race has in year's passed. Specifically, how do you find value in a race with a small field, where the top three Derby finishers are projected to run at near-prohibitive odds? To start, remember that, for the vast majority of the viewing public, the Kentucky Derby is the entirety of their sample size when handicapping the Preakness and everyone wants to root for the prospect of a Triple Crown winner. If you believe that AMERICAN PHAROAH is the real deal and that he came out of the Derby in good enough shape to turn back two weeks later, then you'll have to swallow you're pride and deal with the fact that you're going the same direction as everyone else. However, if that sounds less that palatable to you, then follow me down the contrarian rabbit hole and we'll see if we can make some noise at the window. While I'm listing my exacta/trifecta ideas here, I think the play is also to use the surrounding races in Daily Doubles/Pick 3s. You'll get better value there than on the single-race exotics and that's what Preakness Day is all about.
Advice from our resident Horseman:
1) FIRING LINE 8
2) DORTMUND 2 WILL BE BOXING IN AN
3) DIVINING ROD 7 EXACTA/TRIFECTA
LONG SHOT – TALE OF VERVE
5 (SEVERELY OUTCLASSED COLT WILL OFFER UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO GET 150-1 ODDS ON A TRIPLE CROWN ENTRANT)
KEY FACTS & FIGURES
• The Preakness Stakes winner is draped in a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans, the state flower of Maryland (also the official whiskey-based drink of The Preakness)
• The highest number of winners (16) have come from the # 6 post (BODHISATTVA this year)
• Only one horse (BODHISATTVA) has raced at Pimlico. He won that race
• Since 1932, the Kentucky Derby winner has gone on to win the Preakness 23 times (6 times since 2002). The most recent to do so was CALIFORNIA CHROME, last year
• Over the last 13 years, 9 Kentucky Derby favorites have returned to finish either 1st or 2nd in the Preakness
• There is one Canadian-bred horse running in this year’s Preakness (DANZIG MOON). The last Canadian-Bred to win the Preakness was the legendary racehorse and stud NORTHERN DANCER (1964)
• 72 out of 139 Preakness winners lifetime have been bay-colored horses (52%)
• The weather forecast for race time is 78 F and partly cloudy with a 25% chance of rain
• Officially, the Port-a-Potty dash has been banned by Pimlico officials. Word is that the time-honored tradition endures in unsanctioned form. In an attempt to liven up the festivities from last year's snoozer (Goo Goo Dolls, Lorde, and Counting Crows) the music committee has selected Armin van Buuren and Childish Gambino to headline the 2015 InfieldFest (now, apparently, sponsored by Budweiser). The Bikini Content will once again be held on the Jägermeister Second Stage this year. As always, none of this is made up....
Remember, these are just our thoughts and are in no way an endorsement to wager on these horses (or to wager, period). Good luck and enjoy!