Preakness Stakes Handicapping Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 5/8/2013
When you are looking to identify the winner heading up to the Preakness Stakes, trends can be your friend. Looking back at the recent history of the race can help you pinpoint opportunities and avoid mistakes. Here are three valuable Preakness Stakes handicapping trends to keep in mind:
The Kentucky Derby winner
In recent years, winning the Kentucky Derby has not only been the key to instant fame. It has also been a darned good way to prepare for winning the Preakness. In the last 16 years the Derby winner has gone on to win the Preakness eight times. For the mathematically challenged, that is 50 percent of the times.
The Derby winner is often the Preakness favorite, and favorites win races at about a 30 percent clip, so the Derby winners have exceeded expectations over this recent era. The trend was definitely backloaded, though — I’ll Have Another was the first dual winner since Big Brown in 2008 and just the second in the last eight years. Between Silver Charm in 1997 and Smarty Jones in 2004, there were six dual winners in eight years — far more than would be expected under any circumstances. If you extend the timeline out slightly you find that 11 of the last 32 years have seen a dual winner. That’s pretty much the same percentage of success as we would expect to see from favorites.
Depending on the time frame you choose, then, the Derby winner is either very attractive or not at all attractive given the inevitable low odds, or somewhere in between.
Horses that weren’t in the Kentucky Derby
As things stand now, it looks like there will be three or four fresh horses that weren’t in the Kentucky Derby joining the chase for the Preakness.
It might seem tempting to look closely at these horses because they are more rested than the ones that were in the Derby. There are just two weeks between the two races, and that is far less rest than horses are used to these days. Add to that that the Derby is an absolutely grueling physical and psychological challenge, and it can be a lot to ask of young horses.
A horse that was spared from the Derby could have an edge. Or not, as the numbers have suggested lately.
In the last 29 years there have been just three winners of the Preakness that didn’t first run in the Derby. One of those, Red Bullet in 2000, was a solid horse that was 6/1 in the race. The other two, though, were truly exceptional horses. Bernardini was a highly-touted horse with brilliant breeding who went on to win four major races after the Preakness, including two against older horses. He was named Champion Three Year Old that year. Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, is one of the best fillies of all time and had absolutely dominated the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby. She was by far the best horse in the field that day. (As an interesting aside, Rachel Alexandra gave birth to a filly sired by Bernardini on Feb. 15 of this year, so the two will be linked forever, and the 2016 Triple Crown season could be very interesting). Outside of those three, mere mortal horses have not done very well in this race despite their extra rest.
In the last 16 years there have been 96 fresh horses in the Preakness. Three winners have come from that group — just over three percent. There have been 83 horses to run in both races, and the other 13 winners have come from that group. That’s a 16 percent success rate, so clearly it is far more likely to see a Derby entrant win than a fresh horse.
On the lead
There is an old wives’ tale that Pimlico is a speed favoring track, and that the Preakness favors speed horses because the field size makes the lead attainable and the pace honest.
Don’t buy it.
In the last 53 years we have seen just five horses wire the field. In the last 16 years, just one horse — Rachel Alexandra — was leading both at the half mile mark and the finish line. Only two other winners, War Emblem and Shackleford, were right with the early leaders in the race. That means that in the first half mile the winners are typically either stalking the pace from the mid-pack, or patiently waiting near the back of the pack for their opportunity to pounce.
Goldencents is the horse in the field that most needs the lead. His Derby was ruined by this tendency — he worked far too hard chasing the runaway Palace Malice and was totally out of gas down the stretch. He wound up 17th, and even that finish was flattering for him. While chances are better that he’ll get to run his preferred race in the Preakness, history suggests that it’s not an ideal style of race for the situation.
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