THE PREAKNESS STAKES: The BLS Comprehensive Field Guide & Betting Preview
BY BLS contributing author, RED RYDER
The 2014 Kentucky Derby is in the books as California Chrome handled his business. Next up is the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes. If you’re going to throw some scratch down on the Preakness, here is some info and analysis that will hopefully help. If you like to pick your ponies by the name of the horse, the post number, the color, or whatever else – that can work too – do your thang. Only three runners from the Derby are back and seven new shooters will take a shot at the 2nd jewel of the Triple Crown.
After cruising to an impressive victory in the Kentucky Derby, the opinion of many handicappers (present company included) was confirmed. It was California Chrome’s race to lose, and lose he did not. After his romp in the Derby, the California-bred colt was made the resounding 3/5 morning line (M/L) favorite in the Preakness and deservedly so. He is still in the best form of any 3-year-old, having now won his last 5 races by a combined 26 ¼ lengths. Interestingly, he no longer owns the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the field as he did in the Derby as that honor goes to Social Inclusion who broke the track record at Gulfstream Park in March with a 110 Beyer while going 1 1/16 miles in a 1st level allowance race. California Chrome still does own three +100 Beyers in his last 5 starts and was awarded a 97 in his Derby win.
Just like the Derby but much worse this time, there’s even less value in a win bet on California Chrome in the Preakness. For betting purposes, 3/5 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 California Chrome will win the race just as I thought he would win the Derby. I will be rooting for him to win the race. I will be bummed out if he does not win the race. He is Cal-bred just like me and the crew at buschleaguesports.com. It is a must root-for deal. I would also love to see the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 represent the Cal-breds if the Chrome is able to capture both the Preakness and the Belmont. However, my disappointment will be slightly muted if my value plays or value-exotics happen to hit. I’m going to play the Preakness because I play the ponies like any respectable de-gen should, and I’m going to try to find some betting value in the event the Chrome is upset or if he wins and we can find some prices underneath. So, if not Cali Chrome, then who? My analysis tries to narrow it down to a few runners that I think have the best shot to win or hit the board to make the vertical exotic wagers pay a decent return.
Here is the structure of my handicapping assumptions, selections, and horse-by-horse analysis for this year’s Preakness Stakes.
Just like the Derby, I expect the pace of the race to be moderately hot to very hot early with fast fractions run by the leaders for the first quarter, half, and three-quarter miles. Although the Derby pace was slower than I expected, the distance limitations of most of the colts helped cause most of the front-runners to fade. The Preakness pace should be hotter than the Derby because a number of the new shooters lining up on Saturday are potentially faster front-runners, including the lightning quick Social Inclusion. In addition to Social Inclusion, I expect Ring Weekend, General A Rod, Bayern, and Pablo Del Monte to vie for the lead or press the pace. Each of these 5 has run its best efforts when on or very close to the pace. Also, the Preakness is run at 1 3/16 miles which is a 16th of a mile shorter than the Derby and only a 16th longer than most of the new shooters have run to date. That 16th can make a huge difference for young front-runners.
This should set up a much hotter pace than the Derby. Add to that the knowledge that Social Inclusion is blistering fast, and if he is allowed to get loose on the lead it could spell trouble for the rest of the field. Of course, the other trainers and jockeys know this and I don’t expect them to let this happen. If this pace setup happens, it benefits the mid-pack stalkers and the closers whom I favor in most Triple Crown races as the pace setters generally tire and fall back. The one or two best front-runners have a shot to hit the board, but a hot pace makes a win very unlikely unless one is allowed to get loose without much pressure. The traditional stalkers are California Chrome, Dynamic Impact, and potentially Ride On Curlin. Coming from off the pace should be Kid Cruz and Ria Antonia (although I view her tactical plan as very hard to predict given her recent performance and the fact that she is the lone filly in the field).
Betting the Race
Like most horseplayers, I look for the best combination of a horse’s chances to win the race or hit the board (depending on the type of bet) and value offered by the post time odds. You can check out my rationale for each selection below in the horse-by-horse analysis.
I provide a summary here of the horses that my handicapping suggests have the best combination of odds value and probability to either win, hit the board for a trifecta, or round out a superfecta. I generally try to find my favorite among the favorites, my favorites among the middle-odds horses, and any longshots that I believe have the best chance to hit the board to maximize payoffs if they hit. The field is much smaller than the Derby (19 vs. 10), so I will give fewer selections out for each category this time. For my betting purposes, I group the horses by category and mix and match a bit and hope I hit the right combination in trifectas and superfectas (two-horse exactas work just as well too). If you don’t agree, great! Pick any of ‘em you like however you like to pick ‘em and get some cheddar down. Another quick note, if you’re playing several trifectas and supers like I, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a horse or two that I toss out in a few to cover your arse just in case. If a horse I toss hits the board or the super, obviously most, if not all, of my bets are toast. Also, if you’re playing exotics, make sure you have one or two that do not have California Chrome winning because if this happens it is obviously your best chance to make a good profit. If Cali Chrome wins as expected, the exotics will not pay stacks like they did in the Derby. Smaller field and a 3/5 favorite mean most exotic players will have most of the underneath horses covered. Best of luck to y’all on Saturday!
Value-based WIN bets (My favorites NOT named California Chrome)
The horses that I think provide the best value for WIN bets are:
- 7. Kid Cruz (20/1)
- 1. Dynamic Impact (12/1)
Key Horses for Vertical Exotics (Trifecta and Superfecta)
The horses that I will key on in most exotic wagers are:
- 3. California Chrome (3/5)
- 1. Dynamic Impact (12/1)
- 7. Kid Cruz (20/1)
Horses In With a Shot (Use on some Trifectas and Superfectas)
Other horses that I will mix in but not key on are:
- 8. Social Inclusion (5/1)
- 10. Ride On Curlin (10/1)
Horses That I Tossed (but mixing a few into exotics can’t hurt…just in case)
I will not use these horses and if they hit the board it is no bueno:
- 2. General A Rod
- 4. Ring Weekend
- 5. Bayern
- 6. Ria Antonia
- 9. Pablo Del Monte
Horse by Horse Analysis
1. Dynamic Impact (Tiznow – Featherbed, by Smart Strike)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Miguel Mena
M/L Odds: 12-1
Why he can win: His win last time out in the Illinois Derby in a razor-thin photo over Midnight Hawk was all heart. He pressed the pace all the way around the track and found enough late to just nip the leader at the wire and earned an impressive 102 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort. This gives the Tiznow colt two consecutive stalk-and-pounce wins as his Illinois Derby win came after his maiden-breaking effort. Being a son of the legendary Tiznow, the Preakness distance should be within his reach. He has not raced since his win on April 19, so he may have a freshness edge on the Kentucky Derby runners in the field.
Why he can’t win: The Illinois Derby win showed heart, but it was not super impressive visually. It was a grinder. His rival in that race, Midnight Hawk, was previously defeated by Chitu in the Sunland Derby, California Chrome by 7 ½ lengths in the San Felipe Stakes, and Candy Boy and Chitu in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. The performances of Chitu and Candy Boy in the Derby do not scream confidence in the win over Midnight Hawk last month. Dynamic Impact might be figuring it out now but he did not break his maiden until the 5th attempt and does not have a formal work over the Pimlico track.
Overall take: I’m not sold on Dynamic Impact in the Preakness. He does own two consecutive wins and might be on the upswing with his best career Beyer in that race. I do not put a ton of stock in the Illinois Derby win over Midnight Hawk, but I will use Dynamic Impact in my verticals and hope the odds stay close to 12/1.
2. General A Rod (Roman Ruler – Dynamite Eyes, by Dynaformer)
Trainer: Mike Maker
Jockey: Javier Castellano
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: The General is always a potential contender due to his hard-trying mentality and the fact that he had never finished more than 1 ¾ lengths back from the winner and never missed the board prior to his 11th place effort in the Kentucky Derby. His pedigree screams distance with sire Roman Ruler, son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, having produced several classic distance winners including 2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. His broodmare sire, Dynaformer, is an internationally renowned and immensely successful distance influence. He has faced and narrowly defeated or closely lost to several quality 3 year olds including Wildcat Red, Constitution, Top Billing, and Conquest Titan. The very capable Javier Castellano takes the mount after Joel Rosario jumps to Ride On Curlin.
Why he can’t win: The General is generally a pace-pressing type which can be a bad recipe if the pace is hot as expected. Even with his strong distance pedigree, he did weaken some down the stretch in the Florida Derby two back to finish 3rd and never found his stride and was too far back in the Derby. Also, he will enter the Preakness without a workout over the track.
Overall take: Prior to the Derby, he was always there at the end, he has a great stamina pedigree, and he always gives it his best. For the Preakness, I am not going with General A Rod. My gut tells me that he will likely press a hot pace because he was too far back in the Derby and that will not bode well with the quick 2-week turnaround.
3. California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit – Love the Chase, by Not For Love)
Trainer: Art Sherman
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
M/L Odds: 3/5
Why he can win: Coming into the Derby, Cali Chrome was in the best form of any horse in the field having won 4 straight by a combined 24 ¼ lengths (5 ¼, 7 ¼, 5 ½, 6 ¼). The Chrome had been crushing fools and he did it again in the Derby. He is the very deserving favorite in the Preakness, but his 3/5 M/L odds are brutal for wagering purposes. He has three Beyer’s over 100 in his last five (106, 102, 94, 101, 97), and has done it mostly by stalking the early pace which is always a great style with a hot pace or if you are simply the best horse. I think both are true here. California Chrome is on fire. He easily won the Derby and, by all accounts, is the best horse again this weekend. Anything but a win would be a surprise.
Why he can’t win: The quick turnaround seems to be only obvious thing to go with here. The shortest time between races so far in the Chrome’s career is just under a month, so this will be close to twice as fast as he is used to. The distance, surface, quality of opponents, jockey, and anything else I can think of are non-issues. There are not a ton of knocks here, so it seems that only the quick turnaround or a bad trip could be his undoing.
Overall take: If the California-bred is not in the winner’s circle after the Preakness, it will be a shock to most everyone. He is not a win wager horse for me given his brutal 3/5 M/L odds, but is an absolute key horse in vertical and other exotic wagers. I will certainly have a few trifectas and supers that do not include the Chrome in 1st because that is the best chance to make decent money on the race. That said, I expect him to win and will be rooting for it.
4. Ring Weekend (Tapit – Free the Magic, by Cryptoclearance)
Trainer: H. Graham Motion
Jockey: Alan Garcia
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: Supporters can point to his front-running victory in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby two starts back as evidence the Tapit colt can get it done. Ring Weekend boasts strong connections from top to bottom as his jockey Alan Garcia has already won 5 graded stakes races in 2014, his trainer Graham Motion has saddled a large number of graded stakes winners, and the West Point Thoroughbreds ownership syndicate is always a force. He has not run since April 5th which makes him potentially the freshest horse in the field.
Why he can’t win: That last race on April 5th was a 9 ¾ length crushing at the hands of Our Caravan in the non-graded Calder Derby. Although he had a bit of trouble in the race, he was soundly defeated and was never going to catch the leader who easily drew off down the stretch. His win in the Tampa Bay Derby was not over the best of company as the only other notable 3-year-old in the race was Vinceremos who finished 17th in the Derby. His best effort was from a front-running position, although in his only other victory, he broke his maiden while stalking and closing. I expect him to be close to a hot pace this time which may spell doom.
Overall take: The long-ish layoff, no bueno performance last time out at Calder, and my expectation that he will need to be too close to the pace to contend make me conclude that Ring Weekend will not seriously contend on Saturday.
5. Bayern (Offlee Wild – Alittlebitearly, by Thunder Gulch)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
M/L Odds: 10-1
Why he can win: The horse has a ton of speed, and if he can hold it all the way around on Saturday, he has a shot. If Social Inclusion is the quickest horse in the race, Bayern is right there just behind that rival. Perhaps more importantly for connections players, Bayern is saddled by the legendary Bob Baffert who is 2nd all-time in Preakness wins with 5. Baffert knows how to win the Preakness and he almost did it for a 6th time in 2012 with the similar front-running style colt Bodemeister who was edged by a neck at the wire by I’ll Have Another. His rider, Rosie Napravnik, ran third in last year’s Preakness aboard Mylute.
Why he can’t win: Like a few others in here, his best chance to win may also be the primary reason he will not win – speed. He is super fast and has tried to win all four career starts in gate to wire fashion. That style worked well in breaking his maiden and winning a 1st level allowance early in the year; however, it did not translate to victory when fading to 3rd (5 ¼ lengths) in the G1 Arkansas Derby behind Danza and Ride On Curlin. In his last race, the G3 Derby Trial at Churchill, he was disqualified from a win to 2nd after bumping a number of times down the stretch with the eventual winner.
Overall take: Bayern was a much-fancied west coast runner early in the year but has faltered a bit since facing graded stakes company. His past performances indicate that he will need the lead to win and with all of the other pace in the field, I expect any leader to be facing serious pressure. I’m off Bayern in the Preakness.
6. Ria Antonia (Rockport Harbor – Beer Baroness, by Mr,. Greely)
Trainer: Tom Amoss
Jockey: Calvin Borel
M/L Odds: 30-1
Why she can win: The only filly in the field has a few decent races to go back to if you’re searching. She was declared the winner of the $2,000,000 G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies last November after the winner, She’s a Tiger, was disqualified to 2nd after bumping Ria down the stretch. She also finished 2nd to Fashion Plate in the G1 Santa Anita Oaks two races back. At Churchill, she worked an impressive 47.60 (4/53) for 4 furlongs in her last tune up for the Preakness.
Why she can’t win: Two of her three efforts since the Juvenile Fillies have left a lot to be desired. Ria finished a well-back 4th in the G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes three starts back and a pretty dismal 6th (15 ¾ lengths) last time out in the G1 Kentucky Oaks. While her last work was solid, she worked an even quicker 4 furlong bullet (1/15) in 47.40 prior to the Oaks and turned in weak performance in the race. She is also trying to become only the 2nd filly to win the Preakness since 1924, and she is nowhere near the class level of 2009 winner Rachel Alexandra.
Overall take: The only way I include Ria Antonia in any wagers will be underneath her stronger rivals in vertical wagers just in case she is on her game, the pace is nuclear fast, and I can get an unexpected boost to the odds that not many will have. She will probably go off with the longest odds in the field, and I can’t disagree with that assessment. I don’t think she has any shot, but maybe throw her into a tri or super just in case she’s the longshot bomb that hits the board in 3rd or 4th, however unlikely.
7. Kid Cruz (Lemon Drop Kid – Layreebelle, by Tale of the Cat)
Trainer: Linda Rice
Jockey: Julian Pimentel
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: Kid Cruz won his last start quite impressively over the Pimlico track in the Federico Tesio Stakes, the traditional warm up race for new shooters considering a run in the Preakness. Although he did not face much in terms of company, the Kid cruised up from off the pace and won going away by 3 ½ lengths. That gave the Lemon Drop Kid colt two wins in a row after coming from dead last to win by 4 lengths in the Private Terms stakes at Laurel Park in March. After a clunker in his first career race, Kid Cruz has 3 wins and a 2nd in 4 starts since. His closing style could be very suitable to this year’s Preakness if the pace is hot up front. His rider, Julian Pimentel, has the most experience on the Pimlico track and Kid Cruz is the only entrant to have run a race at the home of the Preakness.
Why he can’t win: He has not faced much in terms of company thus far in his short career. He has not yet tried graded stakes company, and all of his rivals on Saturday have – most more than once. Like Social Inclusion (3) and Bayern (4), he is lightly raced with only 5 career starts which adds an experience disadvantage to his docket. His last two Beyer Speed Figures of 91 and 89 might not be good enough for this group.
Overall take: Given the expected race setup, the 20/1 M/L odds, and the experience over the track for both colt and rider, I am playing Kid Cruz as my best value play in the Preakness Stakes. While there are certainly some knocks on the horse, I believe the pace scenario will help his running style and perhaps his experience at Pimlico will be a slight advantage as well. Play.
8. Social Inclusion (Pioneerof The Nile – Saint Bernadette, by Saint Ballado)
Trainer: Manuel Azpurua
Jockey: Luis Contreras
M/L Odds: 5-1
Why he can win: Social Inclusion was near the top of most Kentucky Derby watch lists after his track record-breaking effort at Gulfstream Park in March going 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.97 while winning by 10 lengths and earning at 110 Beyer Speed Figure – the highest of any 3-year-old in North America. He followed that up with a relatively game 3rd place effort in the G1 Wood Memorial 3 ½ lengths behind Wicked Strong and Samraat, the 4th and 5th place finishers in the Kentucky Derby, after leading most of the way. The Pioneerof The Nile colt is dangerously fast and had blown away both fields he faced prior to the Wood. If he gets loose on the lead, he is a real threat to go gate-to-wire.
Why he can’t win: All he has done so far in his short, 3 race career is go straight to the front and try to win gate-to-wire. In the 2014 Preakness, he has other rivals with that same style in mind which can wreak havoc on how hard Social Inclusion may have to go to get and maintain the lead. The most notable is Bayern who is almost as quick and has shown an identical running style to Social Inclusion thus far. Also, the best career efforts from Ring Weekend and Pablo Del Monte were while on the lead, and General A Rod’s best efforts have been on or pressing the pace. So, there is every chance that even if Social Inclusion is the best speed horse in the field (as it looks on paper), he will not get an easy lead and will be pressed and challenged for it most of the way around.
Overall take: There are certainly reasons to like Social Inclusion as an option apart from California Chrome. If he gets a relatively easy and mostly pressure-free lead, he can win the race if he’s good enough to hold the Chrome off. He appears to have the most natural speed and overall ability of the pace horses in the field, but I cannot see a scenario where the other trainers and jockeys let Contreras get away with anything easy on the front end. Odds wise, not a value-win bet for me, but I will likely include him underneath in some exotics. Just beware that Cali Chrome and Social Inclusion in exactas or trifectas will not pay much at all.
9. Pablo Del Monte (Giant’s Causeway – One Hot Wish, by Bring The Heat)
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Jockey: Jeffrey Sanchez
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: The Wesley Ward colt ran a game 3rd in the G1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keenland last time out while leading most of the way. He was caught down the lane by Dance with Fate and Medal Count, two horses I liked very much in the Derby as value plays (they finished 6th and 8th, respectively). He has faced pretty strong company in his last 2 races and has not been embarrassed by the results. He may also be able to win from a stalking position, but his last race was perhaps his best and was from on the lead.
Why he can’t win: If he gets up near the pace, it could mean big problems for Pablo. He faded late to 3rd in the Blue Grass and has not won a race since his 1st level allowance last October. In fact, he has not finished better than 3rd in 4 attempts since. His connections, while respected, are relatively unproven on the Triple Crown trail. His Beyer figures might be evidence that he may be a notch below many of these.
Overall take: His lack of success against graded stakes company in his last 4 and his potential best chance to get on the lead or press the pace make Pablo Del Monte a pass for me. I’m not convinced he is good enough, even if he attempts to stalk the pace from several lengths back, to beat this group.
10. Ride On Curlin (Curlin – Magical Ride, by Storm Cat)
Trainer: William Gowan
Jockey: Joel Rosario
M/L Odds: 10-1
Why he can win: His 7th place finish in the Derby was not a bad result considering he was running at the back of the pack early and was still only in 14th coming off the final turn. He also had a little trouble as Vicar’s in Trouble was backing up into him as he started his rally. The Preakness distance should not be a problem for this well-bred son of Curlin, the all-time North American money earning thoroughbred ($10.5 million), who won a number of classic distance races. The colt has a versatile running style and has shown an ability to stalk, press the pace, and close from off the pace in hitting the board in 8 of his 10 career starts – the most in the field and all on dirt. His lone work at Pimlico was a solid 49.60 (1/5) going 4 furlongs. Although he had the services of Derby-legend Calvin Borel in the Run for the Roses, the jockey switch to Joel Rosario is an upgrade in my opinion.
Why he can’t win: Ride On Curlin only has 2 wins from his 10 starts and those are his maiden breaking effort at Ellis Park last July against a weak field and a first-level Allowance race at Oaklawn Park in January. He has never won a race against stakes company and his highest career Beyer of 102 came in his maiden breaker. He also starts from the 10 hole on the far outside which can cause potential traffic trouble given his running style.
Overall take: My best guess is that a similar confluence of factors including pedigree, new jockey, and running style will generate moderate action on Ride On Curlin and slightly bring his odds down below the M/L of 10-1. The horse has a chance to hit the board because of these factors, but I don’t see the value on a horse that has only won 2 of 10 and is 0 for 6 in stakes races. Maybe included in a couple of vertical wagers if his odds go up rather than down by post-time, but nothing for me beyond that.
Now that we’ve hopefully helped you find a winner on Saturday, check out the madness that goes down on the infield at Pimlico Race Course. It’s unbelievable.