2018 Preakness Stakes Predictions
So, now that the 2018 Preakness Stakes entries are in and the post positions are drawn, it’s time for us to make some Preakness predictions. And to do so we are going to pretend that there is some intrigue and it’s not clear who I think is going to win this race. We’ll pretend that it’s a wide-open race and that if the race goes off without serious issues that there is more than one horse that can win the race. We’ll pretend that any of the eight horses entered have a decent chance to win and that handicapping this race takes a lot of study, consideration and luck. We will, in other words, live in a fantasy land for the next 700 words or so. And in that spirit, let’s make some predictions about the second leg of the Triple Crown, shall we:
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15 seconds will make the race: A race never ends in the first 15 seconds, but in this race more than most those opening seconds will have a big impact on the outcome of the race. There are three things that will happen very early on that will tell us most of what we need to know about the race. First, does Justify get out of the gate clean? It would be a real setback if he isn’t on his toes when the gates open and he gets caught flat-footed. If that happens then he won’t get to the lead as easily, and he’ll have to run a race he hasn’t run before. He hasn’t had to deal with that in his brief racing career, so we don’t know how he would handle it. Him not getting a clean start is the biggest risk he faces, though.
Second, is he able to get to the lead cleanly and without overexerting? We saw in the Derby that Mendelssohn, the third betting choice, encountered serious traffic issues out of the gate, got bumped very hard, and never recovered. If that were to happen to Justify, or if he were to encounter traffic and be forced to work too hard to move forward, then he could be knocked off his game.
And finally, we will see who, if anyone, intends to go with him. Justify is the only horse in the field with his combination of speed and a love of the lead in the field. If he gets to the lead and gets to set his pace unchallenged then you might as well turn off the TV because the race is over. If someone does try to challenge him then what will be of interest is who it is and how Mike Smith responds aboard the favorite. If it’s a long shot — anyone other than Good Magic, really — then Smith might just let the horse run instead of sticking with him. Smith knows Justify can handle the pace better than any horse in the field, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting run away from. If Justify does engage with the horse, though, or look uncomfortable by being challenged, then it could mean that the race is more wide-open than it might seem.
Watch the first half mile: Assuming that Justify survives those first 15 seconds unscathed then the half mile fraction will be the next tale to be told. If the horse is on the lead in somewhere around 47 seconds or less then there are problems for the seven horses not trained by Bob Baffert. No horse here aside from the favorite has shown us that he can maintain speeds that fast and still have something left at the end. So, to recap — if Justify is in the lead or close but comfortable after 15 seconds, and if he is in the lead or close to it after a half mile at a swift pace, then you can start looking ahead to the Belmont.
There will be a head-scratcher or two: Generally, we know what to expect from the horses in the small field. We would expect to see Justify leading early on, with some combination of Good Magic, Diamond King, Quip, Tenfold and Bravazo forming a pack behind them, and Sporting Chance and Lone Sailor likely trailing the field. There aren’t too many surprises on paper.
But the problem the connections all have here is that they know that if they let Justify run his race then they have almost no chance of beating him. And if every horse runs to his paper form then Justify will be able to run his ideal race. So, the best way to beat the horse is going to be to knock him off his game, and that means that a horse or two needs to take one for the team — to do what they aren’t inclined to do, and what probably won’t help them win the race, in order to let someone other than the favorite come out on top.
A horse or two will do something that makes little direct sense here in this race. It won’t be Quip — he shares too many ownership interests with Justify to get dirty with the favorite. And it probably won’t be Good Magic. He knows he can sit off the pace, pick off all the other horses when the time comes, and be ready to pick up the pieces if Justify falters. He’s well-positioned for at least second on quality, so extra risks don’t make sense. And Lone Sailor has never flashed early speed, so it probably won’t show up here. But Tenfold and Sporting Chance both wired fields earlier in their careers, and Diamond King can mess with the lead. None of them have run nearly as fast as Justify, but at least one will probably try something new and hope to do some damage. It probably won’t work, but it is also better than doing nothing.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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