To effectively handicap any race you need to understand what it is likely to look like. How fast will it be run? Will it favor speed horses or closers? Will your horse be helped or hurt by the race shape? Will any horses have a particular advantage or obstacles that will get in their way of running their best race? In some races the pace scenario is tough to figure out or could look a number of different ways. The Preakness pace scenario, though, is much more straightforward. On paper, at least.
The Early Pace
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There isn't a horse that absolutely has to have the lead, and there aren't two that will go to great lengths to try to win, so we aren't likely to see a deadly pace duel up front. We could see a reasonably fast pace but likely not a crazy one.
Two horses are the likely leaders - heavy favorite Always Dreaming and new challenger Conquest Mo Money. Both have tended to be up front in their recent races, but neither has needed to lead, and both actually seem a little more comfortable in second place. They can't both be in second, of course, so it will be interesting to see which horse leads. Will Conquest Mo Money look to set the pace and keep the Derby champ off guard? Or will he make Always Dreaming do the early work in an attempt to wear him down?
The two most likely stalkers who will be behind the leaders are second-favorite Classic Empire and raw-but-talented new contender Cloud Computing. Neither needs to be here but would prefer to be. Classic Empire won from further back in the Arkansas Derby and was left much further back due to the disaster of the Derby start, but he runs his best when he sits behind the leaders. And Cloud Computing has been somewhat further back twice in three starts, but he was at his best in the Gotham when he ran a stalking trip.
What makes this group interesting is that both are serious contenders in this race. In the Derby Always Dreaming won in part because he was able to run exactly the race he wanted, and he was never really challenged legitimately. These horses will have the responsibility to make sure that the Derby winner doesn't get a free ride again here. It will be hard enough to beat him anyway, so they can't afford to make it too easy on him.
The largest group of horses will likely be in the back group, looking to bide their time until the opportunity to unleash their one move occurs.
Gunnevera closes from the clouds and is a good bet to be at the back of the pack early on. Three of his last five races have been in 10-horse fields like this one is set to be, and he has been 10th early on each time. He has won two of those three races.
Hence was at the back of the pack in the Derby but ideally would like to be a couple horses further forward next time. Lookin at Lee has ever had more than two horses behind him early on in the last six outings, so he should be well back as well. Term of Art has been last at the first call in his last four starts, so he'll be well back as well. So, that makes four horses that are more likely to be last than first early on. Things are going to be crowded back there.
Senior Investment and Multiplier both like to move from the back as well -- but not as far back as the others. They are likely to be the bridge behind the stalkers and the deep closers.
With so many horses looking to close, it will be very interesting to see what the early pace is. It could be in the interest of the horses up front to contain the pace early on because that will make it very tough for the closers to close. If that happened then it would come down to the best horse up front to get the win.
Putting It Together
I expect Conquest Mo Money to lead Always Dreaming through comfortable early fractions - something in the neighborhood of 47 seconds for the half mile. The race will be at risk of being boring through the first minute or so because no one will want to move too soon. They'll just be sitting and waiting. The first crack should be when the stalkers start to move forward. That will fire up Always Dreaming, and we should have a heck of a battle on our hands. If things set up this way then the winner will be among those top four, with the closers left to mop up a piece or two of the exotics at best.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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