Five tips for picking a Preakness winner
War of Will won the Preakness with Tyler Gaffalione up. Photo by Allison Janezic.
New to the Preakness? Wondering how to pick a winner? Or at least how to sound like you know what you’re doing so you can impress your friends?
Not to worry.
Here are our five simple tips, plus a bonus nugget, to finding an elusive Preakness winner (or sounding good while losing)!
- Talk Derby to me. Twenty of the last 24 Preakness winners made their prior start in the Kentucky Derby. And for good measure, one of the four Preakness champs who didn’t run in the Derby — the great filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009 — made her prior start in the Kentucky Oaks, the day before the Derby at Churchill Downs; and she went off as the favorite in the Middle Jewel. Derby starters set to line up on Saturday are the winner, Authentic (9-5 morning line for the Preakness), plus show horse Mr. Big News, Max Player (5th) and Ny Traffic (8th). The filly Swiss Skydiver ran in the Kentucky Oaks.
- We’re not saying you had to win, but… In the last 24 years, the Kentucky Derby winner has come to Baltimore 22 times — and won the Middle Jewel in 11 of those starts. The bad news: those Derby winners have gone off at average odds of about 7-10, not enough to ensure a flat-bet profit. But — and this is a big but — 12 times during this period, a Kentucky Derby winner who was not favored in that race came to the Preakness, and six of those horses won, at average odds of 3.65-1. The flat-bet profit: 132%. And, oh, by the way, Authentic was only the third choice in the Derby. Just sayin’.
- Pace makes the race. The Kentucky Derby is known as a race which often has a very fast pace, which gives deep closers — horses running from the rear of the field — a fighting chance. But those horses often struggle in Baltimore. In fact, of the 11 horses that closed into the pace to win the Derby in recent years (defined here as having been worse than 10th, or at least eight lengths behind, after a half-mile), just two of them — Real Quiet in 1998, who was eight lengths back after a half-mile in the Derby, and I’ll Have Another, also eight lengths back after a half-mile in the 2012 Derby — managed to repeat in the Preakness. The pace was fast in this year’s Derby, but it was Authentic who made it, and he stayed on. The only late-runner to finish in the money was Mr. Big News (12-1 Preakness morning line), who rallied from 10th to finish third.
- Wanted: Live longshots. Besides Rachel Alexandra, the three other horses that won the Middle Jewel without appearing in the Run for the Roses — Cloud Computing (2017), Bernardini (2006), and Red Bullet (2000) — all were talented but lightly raced sorts who’d arrived on the scene too late to make the Derby but were primed for a big run in the Preakness. Cloud Computing and Bernardini had made just three starts prior to the Preakness, and Red Bullet had made only four. The most lightly raced horse in the field this year: Pneumatic (20-1), who’s made just five starts. He was fourth in the Belmont in his fourth career start and followed that up with a win in the Pegasus Stakes. Another place to look: Derby runners who ran credibly but were compromised by the pace or the trip they had. Do you want to take a swing with Mr. Big News (12-1) or Max Player (15-1), both of whom were still running at the end of the Derby despite wide journeys?
- Twofer. An exacta is a wager in which you must pick the first- and second-place finishers, and it can be a great way to turn a profit. Even though the median Preakness winner in the last 23 years has gone off at about 5-2 — and you’re not going to get rich doing that — the median exacta payoff has been $81.40. That’s because longshots typically find their way into the top two in the Middle Jewel. In fact, one of the two horses in the exacta has been higher than 10-1 in each of the last seven years, and in nine of the last 10.
Bonus factoid: Authentic’s trainer Bob Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby five times prior to this year. He also won the Preakness with his Derby champ in all five of those years.