Horse Racing

Rob Carr/AP
Trainer Larry Jones, right, leads Preakness entry Friesan Fire with jockey Gabriel Saez
aboard, around the track at Pimlico Race Course.

How to Bet the Preakness Stakes: Picking the Winner

May 16, 2009 10:00 AM
by Mark E. Moran
Today is the Preakness Stakes. With 13 horses, following an upset in the Kentucky Derby, picking the winner is harder than usual. We suggest factors to consider, and offer our own analysis of who may win.

A Large, Wide-Open Field in the Preakness Stakes

Thirteen 3-year-olds will break from the starting gate today in the 134th running of the Preakness Stakes, in Pimlico, Md.

Post time for the Preakness is 6:04 p.m. EDT. The Preakness will be televised nationally by NBC and will be broadcast on radio by Horse Racing Radio Network.

With an evenly matched field, a lot of solid contenders, and a filly breaking from Post 13 as the expected favorite, selecting a winner this year will be harder than usual.

Basic information about each contender is available on the official site of the Preakness. It provides information on the pedigree and recent races for each horse (including video replays), and gives biographies for the owners, breeders, trainers and jockeys.

The Daily Racing Form’s Preakness section includes news stories and analysis from its racing experts. If you are serious about your selection process, you must read the Racing Form’s free “Past Performances,” which provide crucial details on every race each horse has run. Though they appear daunting at first, a free tutorial is available that will have you reading them like a pro in no time.

There are hundreds of other Web sites and blogs that contain useful information. A good way to make sense of it all is to visit Equidaily, which is the single best source of horse racing news on the Internet. Publisher Seth Morrow scours the Web to find links to the most insightful articles about horse racing, and to expert Preakness selections from all over the Web.

Below, we suggest several criteria for you to consider when analyzing the race, point out which horses best meet these criteria, and finally offer one man's analysis of who might win the race.

What to Look for in a Horse

As you read and consider the experts’ opinions, many of the same important factors will come up again and again. Here are some key points to consider.

Which way will they go? Like humans, horses have good days and bad days, and they usually happen in cycles. Most of the key contenders were trained to run their peak effort a few weeks ago. Some of them may be sufficiently early in their “up” cycle that they can run as well or better than they did in their last race, while others will regress.

A fair bit of guess work is involved in deciding which horses will improve. Take the Points has had six weeks of rest and his workouts suggest he may return running. Friesan Fire and Mine That Bird are two others that I think will fire their best shot.

Rachel Alexandra should also be as good as she was in her last, and the big question is how she'll respond to competition. On the other hand, Musket Man, Papa Clem and Pioneerof the Nile may be ready for a clunker.

The company they keep.
Many horseplayers like to ask, “who'd he beat,” when assessing the quality of a horse's prep race. 

Analysis: This is the key question about Rachel Alexandra's 20-length win over fillies in the Kentucky Oaks. Many experts believe she scared off her main opponents, and faced a field of very modest abilities. Most of the rest of the contenders competed in the Kentucky Derby or main preps.

Running style. In the Preakess, horses with good tactical speed and the ability to stalk tend to do better than horses who charge to the lead or come from way behind late in the race.

Analysis: This angle may be less important this year, as many of the top contenders stalk the pace, which could lead to a pace meltdown, as it did in the Derby. This year, Rachel Alexandra, Papa Clem, Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile and Take the Points all fit squarely the stalker criteria.

Morning workouts.
If a horse has good morning workouts at Pimlico, it suggests both that he is in good form and likes the racing surface.

Analysis: Friesen Fire had a fast workout early in the week, and unlike his pre-Derby workout, he galloped out strongly, but Welsch was concerned that he pulled up slowly. Papa Clem’s last workout was apparently poor, in contrast to his strong Derby workout. Away from Pimlico, Musket Man, Pioneerof the Nile, Rachel Alexandra and Take the Points worked well.

Post position.
A horse who starts from an inside post position may be caught in traffic. A horse drawn outside may have to go wide on the turns on Pimlico's tight turns. The best posts are between No. 3 and No. 10. While plenty of horses have won from the other posts, a poor post has to be factored negatively into your analysis.

Analysis: Of the horse mentioned often in this section, only Mine That Bird (No. 2) and Rachel Alexandra (No. 13) fall outside the preferred posts.

Track condition. As we saw in the Derby, rain on race day can turn the dirt track into mud; some horses will fare well on it, and others will do poorly. The Racing Form’s “Past Performances” will offer some clues about how each horse will do. On Derby Day, the racetrack was “sealed” to keep further rain out; this added yet another tricky element, because some horses dislike a sealed surface, even if they like a non-sealed muddy surface.

Analysis: Friesan Fire, Rachel Alexandra, Take the Points and Luv Gov all have strong wins in the mud; Flying Private did poorly in both muddy track starts. For most of the others, the Derby was their one wet track experience, and it remains to be seen how the Churchill Downs form will translate to Pimlico.

Parting Advice

Now that we’ve explained the “science” of selecting a winner, we’ll also let you in on an inside secret: selecting a the winner of the Preakness is more art than science. So, in the end, your selection should be made by you alone, and don’t be afraid to let your gut feelings play a role.

So how is this writer approaching the race? Given that Rachel Alexandra will be a heavy favorite, if you like her, then bet her over some longshots. And if, like me, you believe she is vulnerable, bet several horses in combinations to beat her.

Friesan Fire is my top pick. His Louisiana Derby win is still the best race any of these horses have run, I think his bad Derby was a fluke, he had a great workout this week and he has a great trainer in Larry Jones.

Take the Points finished just a few lengths behind Pioneerof the Nile at Santa Anita, has been improving steadily his whole career, and sports an encouraging workout line for super trainer Todd Pletcher and top jock Edgar Prado.

Rachel Alexandra certainly may win this race easily, but in her first competitive race, from a bad post and at a short price, I think you should include her in some tickets but also try to beat her.

And lastly, I will include Mine That Bird. His price will be high for a Derby winner, because many think his win there was an utter fluke, and there is no doubt that a fast rail aided him. But I think he is likely to improve again today, and could be in the picture at 6-1.

Where to Bet The Preakness Online

  • Most racetracks that are open for live racing, and most off-track betting outlets in the United States, offer betting on the Kentucky Derby. Click here for a calendar of live racing at all racetracks in the United States.

  • For those who cannot make it to a racetrack or other wagering outlet, legal betting on the Kentucky Derby is available to residents of most U.S. states through several online betting account providers. Legitimate online wagering services that allow you to set up an account online, fund it through a credit card on a same-day basis, and that accept wagers from residents of most states include YouBet, TwinSpires, TVG and XpressBet.

  • Autotote is another legitimate online wagering firm, but does not enable you to open your new account online.  Some racetracks also offer online wagering accounts, but most do not offer same-day opening and funding options.

  • Be wary of any other online wagering provider, other than the four on the list above; they may be located offshore and may not be legally permitted to accept wagers from U.S. residents. Most search engine searches will generate results for illegal offshore wagering providers.

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