110 Yards – Previewing the 2012 Preakness Stakes

110 yards. That’s the difference in the length between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. 1/16 of a mile. Half a furlong. The fastest humans can run that distance in about 11 seconds – the fastest fresh racehorses can cover it about half that time (5.5s). But to a tired thoroughbred having already run 9.5 furlongs, they may take 6.5s to cover that last bit of ground. And when it comes to handicapping the Preakness, that 110 yards might as well be a mile.

I point you to the official Brisnet chart of the 2012 Kentucky Derby. In that last furlong, I’ll Have Another made up 3 lengths on Bodemeister to win by a neck. If a second is equivalent to 5 lengths, IHA ran the last furlong just .6 seconds faster than Bodemeister. Everything else equal (which is almost never the case in horse racing), had the Derby been 110 yards shorter, the curse of Apollo may be history, Bodemeister the winner by up to a 1/2 length.

Which brings me to my major point about handicapping the Preakness – toss out your Derby handicapping and start fresh. The Preakness, like its beer-swilling mascot Kegasus, is a whole ‘nother animal.

In my Kentucky Derby analysis, I laid out some rules that I used to make my picks (that turned out profitable, I might add). The “rules” for the Preakness are different, but recent history illuminates some trends.

  1. Pedigree disqualifies fewer horses. Tossing A.P. Indy and Storm Cat line horses really helped me narrow the Derby field. For the Preakness, all lines have won in recent memory (Foresty, by Storm Cat, sired Shackleford, last year’s winner) so no penalty to my handicapping.
  2. Horses with good pedigrees for the Derby win the Derby. Good horses win the Preakness. Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Bernadini, Curlin, Big Brown, Rachel Alexandra, Lookin at Lucky, Shackleford. Not a bad group. 7 3Yo Eclipse winners, 2 HOYs. All save Smarty won subsequent graded stakes races. Interestingly, however, only 3 won at 10f or longer ever again (AA, Bernadini, Curlin). The rest were best at nine furlongs; Shackleford probably 7-8f. Point’s this: a shorter (8-9f) pedigree can win the Preakness, and has the last few years.
  3. The Preakness can be won on the lead; a horse cannot get too far back and win. Rachel and Shackleford won on the lead, the rest were close at the quarter pole. My point above, that making up ground on a shorter stretch, is more difficult against a confirmed front-runner that can get (or has gotten) nine furlongs in the past. Animal Kingdom made a nice run at the end last year, but Shackleford was already too far ahead.
  4. For Derby horses running back in the Preakness, bad trips only count against them if it took them out of their preferred running style. Lookin at Lucky liked to stalk the lead but got boxed in on the rail and had to come from way back. With fewer horses and a better post, he cruised in the Preakness. I would not necessarily move up a closer who got a bad closing trip.
  5. New shooters need to be really good to have a chance. Only 3 Preakness winners  in the last 15 years did not run in the Derby and two were named Bernadini and Rachel Alexandra. There are none of those in here.

The Preakness is not as great a betting race as the Derby because the legitimate win contenders are fewer, most of whom are known quantities coming out of the Derby. Even the exactas are chalky. Now, you might point to the 13-1 score that Shackleford delivered over Animal Kingdom in 2011, but even he was a top 4-5 play based on his Derby and running style. In 2012, I expect there to be even fewer surprises.

Tier 1 – Win Contenders – Bodemeister and I’ll Have Another

I could attempt to be overly clever and trip handicap the Kentucky Derby to try to find a horse that’s going to pay better than 5-2 at the Preakness. I don’t think that horse is in this field. I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister are my top 2 win contenders based on on their performances in the Derby and the overall strength of their resumes. In the Derby, their 9.5 furlongs were all but equal. Separating them again on the third Saturday of May may prove equally difficult.

I expect Bodemeister to be the Preakness favorite as his Derby race, and not I’ll Have Another’s, got the most raves. After I saw his Arkansas Derby, I tweeted that I thought Bodemeister would win the Preakness. The association to Afleet Alex and Curlin was very strong in my mind. His game, front-running, second in the Derby, however, reminded me more of Hard Spun, who lead every classic race he ran, but never sealed the deal. Bodemeister’s brilliance will likely make him the lowest price on the board at 2-1.

Because of his style and brilliance, he is also a riskier bet for those low odds. His best absolutely wins this, but will he bounce off that Derby effort? Or was his Derby effort a bounce from Arkansas, as brilliant as it was? Bob Baffert would not be sending him to Baltimore if he did not think he could win. He has a lot of confidence in his horse, but then again…

…so does Doug O’neil. A lot has been made of I’ll Have Another’s “perfect trip” in the Derby, but that trip is exactly a product of how IHA wants to run. He likes to use his natural speed to be forwardly placed, but can stalk a true speed horse like Bodemeister. IHA should once again be among the 2nd group of horses chasing Bode, though he can neither let him get too far ahead or set easy fractions. I’m pretty certain IHA will be the 5-2 second choice, which is a pretty good value.

I really see two scenarios: if Bode wins, IHA is a clear second among every other horse. If IHA wins, Bode may not have gotten the trip he wanted and the next tier of horses is in play.

Betting Strategy: IHA to win at 5-2 or better, equal weighted straight exacta on Bode-IHA, and various exotics keying IHA or Bode over IHA.

Tier 2 – Top Exotics Candidates – Creative Cause, Went the Day Well, Daddy Nose Best, Liaison

These candidates finished 5th, 4th and 6th respectively in the Kentucky Derby and only WtDW did not get the trip he was looking for. (He came from far back to grab 4th.) Based on that finish, I’m expecting WtDW to be the “wiseguy” Preakness horse, and may be the 3rd choice between 6-1 and 9-1. I think this is a mistake. WtDW closed into a fast pace where all the frontrunners but Bodemeister backed up into the pack. His wide move saved him a lot of pain. I also think he, like Dullahan, had a Derby-specific pedigree edge.

For that reason, I like Creative Cause as a strong top-3 candidate and even top-2 if Bode falters in the stretch. CC has missed the board only once (the Derby) and should like the shorter going here. His duel with IHA in the SA Derby shows he’s got all the class he needs. The best case scenario for good payoffs has CC nosing out IHA with Bode off-the-board. I like that scenario enough to play a small trifecta or super on it.

Daddy Nose Best is a late entry but gets Julien Leparoux back, his pilot for both GSWs this year. He beat decent horses at Sunland and I could see him getting a share here. The “wiseguy” tag washed off him pretty quick after the Derby, so we may expect better odds.

I add Liaison here because he seems like a horse rediscovering his form for top connections. I could see the son of Indian Charlie with a consistent run for a 3rd or 4th place finish. Given the split between Martin Garcia and Bob Baffert, I’m not sure who’s going to get the call.

Tier 3 – Long Odds, Short Chances – Zetterholm, Optimizer, Teeth of the Dog, Tiger Walk, Cozzetti, Pretension

Theoretically, all of these horses should be 25-1 plus but I’m notoriously bad at figuring out the betting public on longshots. Optimizer and Cozzetti have already finished multiple lengths back of Bodemeister at nine furlongs. Cozzetti – being by Cozzene, a strong stamina influence – should have waited for the Belmont, but his trainer is sending Dullahan there next month. Optimizer gets a new jockey, Corey Nakatani, but I think his future’s on grass.

Teeth of the Dog and Tiger Walk finished behind Alpha and Gemologist who did nothing in Kentucky. Each has a pedigree for more distance, however, and could figure on the bottom of some tickets.

Zetterholm is interesting insofar as he’s an unknown quantity against graded competition but at least he has a winning streak to defend. I don’t think Pretension will show anything – an Illinois Derby 9th is not going to get it done.

I will celebrate the fact that the Preakness has dime supers – unlike the Kentucky Derby – which means I can afford pressing the ALL button once or twice.

Final Analysis

Part of betting the races is finding value where you can. The I’ll Have Another – Bodemeister exacta will never again pay $300. It might pay $17. Still, the race scenario where Bode doesn’t bring his best may pay handsomely and could set up a shot at the Triple Crown. That’s the angle I’ll play (aside from the odds being screwy, like Bode at 4- or 5-1) – the Santa Anita Derby runners going 1-2 again.

I’ll Have Another, Creative Cause, Bodemeister, Went the Day Well. Good luck.