2015 PREAKNESS STAKES: The BLS Comprehensive Field Guide & Betting Preview
By BLS Horse Racing Handicapper, RED RYDER
The 2015 Kentucky Derby is in the books. American Pharoah got to the wire first and is now on the road to the elusive Triple Crown. Next up is the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes. Five colts from the Derby are back, and three new shooters will take a shot at the 2nd jewel of the Triple Crown in the smallest Preakness field in years. For the most part we have my least favorite trainer, Todd Pletcher, to thank for the puny field size. Not only did Pletcher not send Derby contenders Materiality and Carpe Diem to Pimlico (which you can excuse on two-week turnaround grounds), but he also kept undefeated Competitive Edge and the ultra-quick Stanford on the sidelines as well. Weak stuff as usual Todd.
Just like last year, we have the Derby favorite coming off a win and sitting at odds-on in the Preakness. This Saturday there is even less value in a win bet on American Pharoah than there was in the Derby. For betting purposes, 4-5 is awful and in no way worth a win bet. Horseracing is too unpredictable to bet even money or odds-on horses at any time. Hell, only 33% of favorites win any race. Odds-on horses win at a slightly better clip, but nowhere near enough to take on that risk/reward scenario. That said, I think American Pharoah has the best chance to win the race just as I thought he was the most likely Derby winner. Even with a short-odds favorite that is the likely winner, I’m going to play the Preakness because I play the ponies like any respectable degen should. I’m going to try to find some betting value in the event the Pharoah doesn’t get it done. So if not American Pharoah, then who?
BETTING THE RACE
As boring and unprofitable as it is, I expect the most likely scenario is that the Derby top 3 (American Pharoah, Firing Line, and Dortmund) run 1-2-3 again. I think there is a chance that Firing Line or Dortmund can turn the tables on the Pharoah, and you might be able to make a little coin if that happens. With such small field and the quality of the three West Coast horses, I only give one other colt a shot to upset the Big 3 and take the Preakness – Divining Rod. In terms of the two other Derby horses that are back for the Preakness, Mr. Z and Danzig Moon, I did not like them at Churchill two weeks ago and I don’t like them again this week at Pimlico. Two of the new shooters, Tale of Verve and Bodhisattva, are completely outclassed in my opinion. That leaves American Pharoah, Firing Line, Dortmund, and Divining Rod. Check out the horse-by-horse analysis below to get my whys and why-nots for each runner. The short of it is that this is not the best scenario to make a big score unless Divining Rod gets the win or gets into an exacta without the Pharoah or a trifecta without the Pharoah in first. For my own wagering purposes, I am not playing any exotics with American Pharoah in first – the payoffs will be too small for my blood. I will key him in 2nd and 3rd in a few vertical wagers and that’s about it. I’m going to hope he doesn’t win and not be mad if he does. It will make for another exciting Belmont in 3 weeks.
Value-based WIN bets (My favorites NOT named American Pharoah)
The horses that I think provide the best value for WIN bets are:
7. Divining Rod (12-1)
8. Firing Line (4-1)
Key Horses for Vertical Exotics (Trifecta and Superfecta)
The horses that I will key on in most exotic wagers are:
2. Dortmund (7-2)
7. Divning Rod (12-1)
8. Firing Line (4-1)
Horses That I Tossed (but throwing $2.00 on a few of the bombs is always fun….just in case)
I will not use these horses and if they hit the board it is no bueno:
1. American Pharoah (4-5) – Keyed in 2nd and 3rd in a few verticals
3. Mr. Z (20-1)
4. Danzig Moon (15-1)
5. Tale of Verve (30-1)
6. Bodhisattva (20-1)
HORSE BY HORSE ANALYSIS
1. American Pharoah (Street Boss – Champagne Royale, by French Deputy)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Victor Espinosa
Owner: Zayat Stables
M/L Odds: 4-5
Why he can win: Your Kentucky Derby winner has been a beast in his last 5 starts. After finishing 5th in his first career start, American Pharoah has rattled off 5 consecutive wins by 1 (Derby), 4 ¾, 3 ¼, 6 ¼, and 8 lengths. The Pharoah is an obvious morning line favorite in the Preakness. Since 1997, 50% of Derby winners (9 of 18) have gone on to win the Preakness and have a shot and the Triple Crown (Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, I’ll Have Another, California Chrome). That is a crazy high percentage for horse racing. His connections are top shelf with Baffert, Espinosa (now a back-to-back Derby winner), and the Zayat Stable. There is little to suggest that American Pharoah is not a major contender and deserving favorite on Saturday.
Why he can’t win: American Pharoah had to run his eyeballs out to win the Kentucky Derby. It was the first time in 4 races that he needed to be urged and whipped (an estimated 30 or so times) to get the job done. The only potential knock on this beast is that he may legitimately be tired just two weeks after the hard run in the Derby. The #1 post is also not ideal, particularly with the speedy and big Dortmund just to his inside in the 2 hole. If Baffert’s #1 colt is tired or gets a brutal trip due to post position or something else, there is a chance he does not cross the wire first.
Overall take: American Pharoah is talented, proven, and a deserving favorite in the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown. But I don’t bet short-odds favorites. Too much risk for too little reward. I will have the Pharoah in a few vertical exotics and nothing more. He has the best chance to win the race, and if he does I will be pulling for him in the Belmont for sure. But I gamble to win money, and there is not a lot of money to be won on bets with American Pharoah part of the equation.
2. Dortmund (Big Brown – Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Martin Garcia
Owner: Kaleem Shah
M/L Odds: 7-2
Why he can win: Dortmund ran his heart out in the Derby to finish a respectable 3rd by 3 lengths after going an undefeated 6 for 6 coming into the race. The huge son of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown has shown a ton of fight in all of his races thus far. Dude gives it his best every time. The #2 post is not bad at all for a colt that likes to get out front and take the field around the track. He rocks outstanding jockey-trainer-owner connections and has the class to win the race if things go his way.
Why he can’t win: There are not many knocks on Dortmund as you might imagine. He really had no excuses in the Derby after getting to the front and knocking off relatively soft fractions early. His chief rival, Firing Line, did turn the tables on him for the first time to finish 2nd in the Derby, so there is a chance that distances over 1 1/8 miles are not to his liking. Baffert’s #2 colt had to run hard for his 3rd in the Derby and, like American Pharoah, could be a bit leg-weary coming into the Preakness off only 2 weeks rest.
Overall take: Dortmund can win the Preakness – no question. If he gets to the front and is allowed to run easy-ish fractions without too much pressure, he can get to the wire first. His morning line odds of 7-2 do not inspire uber-value for a win bet, but if you like Dortmund, he is a great use in exotics. Particularly if it’s not American Pharoah’s day.
3. Mr. Z (Malibu Moon – Stormy Bear, by Storm Cat)
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Jockey: Ramon Vazquez
Owner: Zayat Stables
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: As I said before the Derby, Mr. Z is a grinder. He now has 13 starts under his belt – by far the most in the field. In all but 3 of those starts (including a pretty dismal 13th in the Derby), he has not finished worse than 3rd. He likes to run close to the pace, so if they go slow up front it helps Mr. Z’s grinding style for sure. He finished a particularly game 3rd (1/4 length) to Dortmund and Firing Line in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity last December.
Why he can’t win: Did I mention that in those 13 starts Mr. Z has one win? Yep, his maiden victory in the first career start. He has not won a race since then. June 28, 2014 to be exact. While the well-bred son of Malibu Moon has been competitive most of the time (Kentucky Derby notwithstanding), he does not win. Mix in the fact that he is owned by Zayat Stables, the owners of Preakness favorite and Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah, and my best guess is that Mr. Z is in the race to help his much more accomplished fellow Zayat colt in any way he can.
Overall take: Mr. Z’s grinding style that does not produce big results (three 3rd’s, a 9th, and a 13th in 2015) is not my cup of tea. In my opinion, if he hits the board it will be by accident. Like where he tries to tire out Dortmund up front for the Pharoah and somehow has enough gas left in the tank to squeeze out a 3rd. Not for me.
4. Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon – Leaveminthedust, by Danzig)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Owner: John C. Oxley
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: Danzig Moon finished a respectable 5th (6 ½ lengths) in the Kentucky Derby. He ran around the Churchill track in 5th or 6th for most of the race and finished 5th. Not a bad effort. His 2nd place effort (3 lengths) behind Carpe Diem in the Bluegrass was solid and showed some evidence of a colt on the improve. He is lightly raced with only 6 career starts, so the 2 week turnaround from the Derby might not hit him that hard.
Why he can’t win: To date, he only has a maiden win to his name and a 1 for 6 record overall. It took the son of Malibu Moon 3 tries to break the maiden, and he got smoked by 12 ½ length in his first try against winners three races back. His 5th in the Derby was solid, but he never showed a turn-of-foot requisite to make a move for the lead versus the top 3 finishers.
Overall take: While Danzig Moon a toss for me again this week, I think he has a shot to hit the board if things really go his way. If there’s a hot battle for the lead and the front runners throw it in reverse late, Danzig Moon has a look to hit the board. I’m not a huge fan, but I won’t talk you off him if you think he’s got a shot.
5. Tale of Verve (Tale of Ekati – Verve, by Unbridled)
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Owner: Charles Fipke
M/L Odds: 30-1
Why he can win: Because it’s a horse race and anything can happen, I guess. He won his last race – which is nice. In that one, he broke his maiden at Keenland in only his sixth try. Maybe Danzig Moon to his inside will veer hard left out of the gate and wipe out all those horses and Bodhisattva to his outside will veer hard right and wipe out all those horses. Then, Tale of Verve can win, maybe.
Why he can’t win: He just broke his maiden last race after five previous failed efforts. The son of Tale of Ekati is 1 for 6 lifetime and has never faced winners. The other colts in those maiden races are two or three notches below the rest of his rivals in the Preakness field to boot.
Overall take: Unless Rosario is planning on show-jumping Tale of Verve onto the back of one of the favorites and hitching a ride around the track for a smooth 2nd or 3rd, I cannot see how this fella hits the board. In fact, I have no idea what the hell this colt is doing in the race. But hey, you never know.
6. Bodhisattva (Student Council – Dr. Cheryl P., by Talk Is Money)
Trainer: Jose Corrales
Jockey: Trevor McCarthy
Owner: Jose Corrales
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: Bodhisattva won the Pimlico prep race for the Preakness, the Federico Tesio Stakes, by 1 ½ lengths on April 18. He is the only colt in the field with a win over the track. So there’s that.
Why he can’t win: He sports a career record of 3 wins (Tesio, an allowance race at Laurel Park, and his maiden win), 1 second, 4 thirds, 2 fourths, and a fifth from 11 career starts. Against very weak company. That is not good. Couple that with some very suspect connections and Bodhisattva is up against it in the Preakness.
Overall take: There is a brilliant quote from President George W. Bush that I think sums up my assessment of Bodhisattva for Saturday. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on………(wait for it)………shame on you. Fool me………(wait for it)…….ya can’t get fooled again.” I put a value play on new shooter Kid Cruz in last year’s Preakness after he won the Federico Tesio. And that was with a much more impressive prior record than Bodhisattva. He ran vomitous 8th. Not happening this year. Straight toss.
7. Divining Rod (Tapit – Precious Kitten, by Catienus)
Trainer: Arnaud Delacour
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Owner: Lael Stables
M/L Odds: 12-1
Why he can win: Divining Rod won the G3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keenland by an impressive 3 lengths last time out. Visually, the well-bred son of Tapit showed a nice turn-of-foot blowing past the leaders off the turn in the Lexington win. Prior to that, the Rod ran 3rd to Carpe Diem (and ahead of Danzig Moon) in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby and 2nd by a neck in the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes. The colt has never missed the board in 5 career starts and appears to have some talent if he can put it all together in the Preakness. Having Javier Castellano in the irons doesn’t hurt either.
Why he can’t win: Other that his 3rd in the Tampa Bay Derby, Divining Rod has not faced the same class of company as the 3 favorites in the Preakness. He only has two wins from five career starts, and his pre-race works have not been that stellar.
Overall take: Divining Rod is the only new shooter I give a snowballs chance in hell to upset the apple cart and get a shocking win in the Preakness. He looked good in the Lexington, has a nice pedigree, and has a more than capable jockey up. And not that it matters to anyone else, but I have hunch-play factors on this one. I pretty much only watch sports on the tube. My rare ventures away from the gridiron, diamond, court, pitch, or track are to the numerous gold-seeking shows spread across cable. Bering Sea Gold, Gold Rush, Ice Cold Gold, Any Damn Show With Gold In The Name. I’ll crack out on a gold show if you let me. If you’ve seen any of those shows, you might know what dowsing is. Dowsing is when a crazy, gold-seeking nut job walks around with a skinny little metal stick in each hand like an Aussie Rules Football referee just signaled a goal. If they cross each other, there might be some gold below ya. Those are divining rods. Good enough for me. Oh yeah, and we share the same birthday. Play!
8. Firing Line (Line of David – Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold)
Trainer: Simon Callaghan
Jockey: Gary Stevens
Owner: Arnold Zetcher
M/L Odds: 4-1
Why he can win: Firing Line finished an ultra-game 2nd (1 length) in the Derby and gave American Pharoah all he could handle. If the race was at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, he might have won the damn thing. Dude is legit. He has never finished worse than 2nd in 6 career races. After two consecutive defeats by a head to Dortmund in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity and G3 Robert B. Lewis, Firing Line got his revenge by finishing ahead of Dortmund in the Derby. He is a game as they come and fights his arse off every time. He also has Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the saddle again on Saturday which is about as good as it gets.
Why he can’t win: Firing Line has a knack for finishing 2nd. He has never finished worse than 2nd, but only has two wins to his name. After rallying up alongside Dortmund off the turn in the Derby and taking a brief nose length lead, he got passed by the Pharoah and finished 2nd, again. That’s pretty much the only reason he “can’t” win the Preakness.
Overall take: Firing Line has a big shot to win the 140th Preakness Stakes. He has given the other two favorites all they want 3 times now, finishing second by no more than a length each time (twice by a head to Dortmund). If he runs his race and is not too tired by now (the same can be said for Pharoah and Dortmund), he should be right there at the end. Here’s to hoping the betters crush American Pharoah down even more from that ugly 4-5 M/L so we can get more value on Firing Line.