Horsemen have 1.5 million reasons to love the Preakness Stakes, unfolding Saturday at 7:01 p.m. EDT at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. That’s the purse of the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.
Bettors, Playfecta.com readers, and nationwide gamblers — who can access a loaded undercard via TVG starting at 10:30 a.m. — have additional reasons to hone in on the entire program.
In recent time-honored tradition, Pimlico spreads more than $1 million across several stakes races besides the Preakness on this card. They include the $250,000 Dinner Stakes, the $200,000 Chick Lang Stakes, and several races at $150,000 and $100,000.
We will examine them and the Preakness itself, and offer our customary “Bombs Away, Salute to Long Shots” segment, showing the avenues by which several Playfecta.com followers enriched themselves last week.
Epicenter presents betting quandary
On paper, he’s the best horse in the Preakness, but bettors will demand value. His 6-5 morning-line odds do nobody any favors. If he drifts lower, he’s bordering on “Fuhgettaboutit” on the win line. Nonetheless, he turns back to 1 3/16 miles, where he comfortably won the Louisiana Derby. He is the only horse in the race with a triumph at this distance. Bettors will love his position if he is just behind the lead coming for home.
Early Voting should be there early and will try to stretch from his near-miss 1 1/8-mile race at the Wood Memorial. Simplification always runs strongly and could be a good key underneath. Secret Oath should be running late in an attempt to become the seventh filly to win the Preakness. Swiss Skydiver did the trick just two years ago. Secret Oath emphatically won the Kentucky Oaks after losing considerably in the Arkansas Derby to Cyberknife, who then ran poorly in the Kentucky Derby. She offers mixed signals for gamblers, but her most recent effort was the best of the two.
The pace should not be as wicked as it was in the Derby, which enabled the shocking rally from 80-1 long shot winner Rich Strike. This should be a race devoid of traffic problems, setting it up for the best horse to win the event.
Don’t forget the Preakness undercard
It’s loaded for a reason. Tracks already know they will get significant handle on the signature race. So, they market a solid undercard to the same bettors, hoping to corner their action all day. This has proven to work and give these establishments insurance against bettors’ apathy. The June 11 Belmont launched this approach a few years ago so that the lack of a Triple Crown candidate would not impact its handle.
The Preakness had to do it too. So there’s a story behind it going further back.
After Spend A Buck won the Derby in 1985, his connections skipped the Preakness to attain a $2 million bonus by winning the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park, which he did.
The decision jolted the Triple Crown leadership, creating a $1 million bonus based on points for a horse running in all three races. That eventually gave way to menus like this one, in which Pimlico and Belmont Park in New York make their cards a stand-alone showcase.
The card starts at 10:30 a.m.
Preakness Stakes undercard races
The Maryland Sprint has a 12:16 p.m. post time, a $150,000 purse, and a seven-horse field for this six-furlong sprint. Following that at 12:51 is the Gallorette with a $150,000 purse and a seven-horse field for this 1 1/16-mile turf race. An 11-horse field in a nonstakes race follows, offering price opportunity. The stakes run continues with the $100,000 Skipat at 2:08 p.m. with a 10-horse field.
By this point in the schedule, players may have a feel for how the track plays at the six-furlong distance. Pimlico is usually speed-favoring; it will be interesting to see whether that pattern plays out.
Up next is the Dinner Party Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf at 2:49 p.m. It’s the biggest purse on the undercard, $250,000, and has seven horses in the field. Then, the heavy hitting continues at 3:31 p.m. with the Chick Lang Stakes. It’s for $200,000, has a nine-horse field, and is a six-furlong sprint.
Saturday’s card rounds toward home at 4:12 p.m. with the James Murphy Stakes for $100,000. It is a 1-mile turf race with 11 horses. Again, there is a sense of high-quality horses and live long shots connected to this combination.
Named for the first-ever Triple Crown winner, the Sir Barton Stakes unfolds at 4:53 p.m. The $100,000 race has tight competition in the 10-horse field. Bettors will recognize the entry of Ethereal Road. He was the last-second scratch that enabled Rich Strike to enter the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and was expected to run in the Preakness. Instead, he’s on the Preakness undercard.
The Jim McKay is the final stakes undercard race at 5:51 p.m. The $100,000 event is a five-furlong sprint with a field of 10.
Monmouth Park: Let’s get serious
Florida trainer Gerald Bennett is on the verge of his seventh straight training title at Tampa Bay Downs. Now he is ready to begin his next campaign at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He is almost done shipping 50 horses up and plans his New Jersey debut this weekend.
Bennett will have two entries on Saturday’s card, highlighted by the $100,000 Politely Stakes. He dives right into stakes action with Xy Speed heading the field for Sunday’s $100,000 Get Serious Stakes at five furlongs on the turf. Six days later, he will send out Carpenters Call in the $100,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that kicks off three days of live racing over the Memorial Day weekend.
Bombs Away, Salute to Long Shots
Pick a bomb, any bomb. Three races last Saturday illustrated why bettors need to take the long shots.
Example one — Sometimes the chalk takes a walk
Yibir was a can’t-miss candidate in the $700,000 Man o’War at Belmont Park. The horse surged to win the Breeders Cup last November. Best horse in the country. He won an Eclipse Award as the Champion Turf Male. Here he is in a five-horse field at Belmont Park facing, among others, a horse he had crushed in a recent competition — Gufo. Ten minutes before the race, he was 1-5. He drifted up to 3-5 just before post time, but the odds made him unplayable.
So did his performance.
When the gates opened, he stood there as if waiting for a later train. The delay cost him several lengths, and even though he was in a position to run the competition down in the stretch, he just didn’t have it. Few thoroughbreds can overcome the loss of several lengths at the start.
Example two — Gulfstream Park, Race 8
The takeaway: A big payout, from fourth. The breeding grounds were there for a sizable payday. Twelve-horse field with the favorite, Tapit Brio, at 3-1. He triumphed. R Admiral came in second at 6-1, and the third-place horse, Southern Breeze, was 9-2.
The $2 trifecta payout of $322 was not bad. But the $2 superfecta returned $10,257, making the $1 super $5,128 and the 10-center worth $513. Why? Street Glide, a 50-1 shot, came in fourth.
This is the benefit of sprinkling long shots underneath the winner. Tapit Brio was reasonable on the win line, but because he wasn’t, say, 7-5, you had a fairly good return on top, followed by a bomb on the bottom.
Example three — The “breeding” angle
Bettors love to see if a horse is bred for speed, distance, turf, slop, etc. So here’s one from another dimension.
Dramatic Kitten won the fourth race at Hawthorn at 24-1. Coming Up Aces was second at 5-1. Kennesaw, the 2-1 favorite, was third. Empty Holster, 5-1, was fourth. The $2 super paid $9,664. The 10-center was $483. The $1 tri paid $996, and the $2 exacta paid $327. All made possible because the bomb was on top.
So why was a New Jersey bettor screaming for the horse as if he knew victory was expected? “Breeding,” if you will. Asked why he was so confident about a 24-1 shot, he said, “I have two cats at home. That’s why I played him.”
Hey, there are many ways to win. Some people like birthdays, house numbers, daughters’ names, or colors. There is no way to handicap felines in a horse race. In this case, Dramatic Kitten was the cat’s meow.
Good luck seeking purr-fection this weekend.