2011 Preakness Stakes Pace Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 5/19/2011
Pace, or the projected shape of the race, is always a big part of handicapping horse races, but it is especially important in the Triple Crown races because young horses are being asked to do things they have never done before.
Pace can be confusing for people who don’t bet the ponies often, but it doesn’t need to be. All you are trying to do is figure out how horses like to run, and then figure out if they are likely to be able to run in that way. Some horses like to get to the lead early and try to stay there. Some like to sit just behind the leaders and then make a move towards the end of the race. Some like to sit way off the pace and relax early on before unleashing a frantic late charge. The problem is that if a lot of horses want to run in the same way then a horse might have to adjust and adapt. There can only be one horse on the lead, for example. Some horses can adjust very well, while others can’t.
Some running styles also depend on the presence of other running styles. The Derby this year provided a perfect example. Dialed In, the favorite, is a deep closer. That means he likes to sit at the back of the pack and then explode down the stretch. In order for a deep closer to win he or she typically needs some horses to set a fast early pace. That rapid start tires out the horses at the front and makes them vulnerable to a late attack. If they aren’t tired out then the closers may not be able to get past them.
The pace in the Derby this year was expected to be fast, but it ended up being historically slow through the first half mile. That meant that the horses that sat just off the pace -- like Animal Kingdom -- had lots left in the tank when they entered the stretch and Dialed In had left himself with too much work to do. He didn’t run a great race, but even if he had he probably wouldn’t have been able to get the win because the pace worked against him. If you understood pace then you knew as soon as the time for the first quarter mile was posted that he was in trouble.
Dialed In is in this race again, and he’s joined by a large number of other closers, so the early pace is a big story here again. Six horses -- Dialed In, King Congie, Midnight Interlude, Norman Asbjornson, Ruler on Ice, and Sway Away -- are likely going to be trying to be at or near the back of the field for the first half of the race or more. It’s a good bet that Dialed In will be last early on. So will they have the pace they need this time around?
The simple answer is… well, there is no simple answer in the Preakness. There are definitely some speed horses in this race. Shackleford is here after running in the Derby, and Flashpoint and Dance City prefer to run at the front as well. When you have three speed horses in a race you often have a fast pace because the horses chase each other in an attempt to be at the front. That would be good news for Dialed In and the others. The X-factor here, though, is that the lead is wildly unattractive in the Preakness. Horses virtually never win this race wire-to-wire. In fact, just once in the last 14 years has the horse that was at the front of the field after half a mile still been there after a mile and 3/16. Trainers and jockeys know this, so they are going to be hesitant to really push the pace and go against history. That means that there may be a fast pace, but there may not. In turn, that means that the closers need to decide whether they are going to gamble that there will be a pace, or if they are going to try to change their race plan instead.
The rest of the field -- Astrology, Concealed Identity, Mr. Commons, Mucho Macho Man, and Animal Kingdom -- are likely to be positioned between the closer and the speed. You could call them stalkers because they will stalk the pace while looking for their opportunity to move. There is a pretty good chance that Animal Kingdom will be at the back of the stalking group if the race shakes out like it should on paper.
So what does this all mean for the Preakness? If you are looking for a shortcut then toss out the speed horses. That’s not guaranteed, but it’s a solid gamble. History tells us that the rally horses, or the closers, have done the best in the race, while the stalkers have also found success, though not quite as much. The odds represent those trends well. Favorite Animal Kingdom is a stalker who is really a borderline closer. Second choice Dialed In is a deep bomber. Third choice Mucho Macho Man is a stalker. In short, the horses in this field that are clearly the best are positioned very well to do what they need to do. Of the three Dialed In is most reliant on the early pace, so I find him the hardest to trust. Of course, I also find him hard to trust for the same reason I didn’t like him in the Derby -- I just don’t think he’s very good.
Doc’s Sports will have Preakness Stakes Picks for the 2011 Run for the Black-Eyed Susans on Saturday, May21. Doc has been studying the Preakness Stakes field since the Derby and we expect to bring in some very nice profits as the Preakness odds will yield great value. Preakness picks are only $20 and if you don’t show a profit Belmont Stakes picks are free!
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