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When we get to Pimlico, money talks
by Geir Stabell / Globeform
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Isn’t it wonderful. When we get to the Preakness Stakes, and fancy a bet on the second leg of the Triple Crown, we already know which is the best 3-year-old colt around.

Presumably it is the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Also, if we want to play with ’stats’ we can focus on just seven runnings – and it gives us the whole picture of this century... Well, don’t take this too seriously.

There are other keys to solving the Preakness, and they may get you better results. One is quite simple; follow the money. Whereas Fusaichi Pegasus and Street Sense are the only favorites to win at Churchill Downs over the past ten years, no fewer than five favorites have obliged at Pimlico over the same period. Barbaro could well have been a sixth.

Overall, favorites in thoroughbred horseraces typically have a 30% strike rate. Although Grade One races have a higher percentage of winning favorites, it seems that, even though it is not ’always’ the Derby winner that comes out best in the Preakness, the betting is an incredibly good pointer in this race.

The five winning favorites have actually come within the last six runnings, from Point Given in 2001, to Afleet Alex two years ago – with the five win streak assisted by War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. There are many factors that affect this picture; that tells us clearly how favorites do better in the Preakness than in the Derby. Firstly, the Derby reveals who’s top class and who’s not. Secondly, it nearly always has a much bigger field. There are two other factors though, that I believe to be equally important.

On Derby day, the pools are heaviily influenced by millions of ’amateur bettors’. Much more so than on Preakness day. These folks, who tune into racing once a year, and have a $2 win bet – or even share one with a friend, do not bet the experts’ favorites. And why should they? Together, these once-a-year fans combine for a massive slice of the win pool. The other factor, which makes the Preakness easier to predict than the Derby, is the distance. It may be only half a furlong shorter than the Derby, but that, and the facts that Pimlico is not quite as testing and that the pace is normally more sensible, makes a big, big difference. It means that a horse can win it without having abundance of stamina. So what? So, what I am trying to say is that the race is much more resembling all the 8.5- and 9-furlong preps we have studies through the winter and early spring.

The Derby preps can be more likely to tell us who’s in with a shot at the Preakness, than the Derby. Therefore, when planning your Preakness bets, do not forget those ’Derby’ preps. And bear in mind that the majoriity of the money bet on the favorite on the board at Pimlico has been backed for a good, professional reason. That is seldom the case in the Derby – although this year, in fact it was.


Winston Churchill, a keen racing man and racehorse owner, once said: ”The majority is never right!”. Don’t know quite how he came up with that famous line. It could have been when some of his party members voted against having half a bottle of malt whisky each for starters. Though, on second thoughts, it could – perhaps – also have been words he put together after seeing a few runnings of the Kentucky Derby and how badly the favorites fared.


If you had bet $100 on the last ten favorites up to this year’s Derby, you would have suffered a loss of $770. If you had $100 bet on the last ten favorites in the Preakness, you would have a profit of $470. That may not sound great either, but believe you me; If you go up to a professional horseplayer, tell him you know nothing about horses, you do not spend even a minute studying the form before each bet, yet you have been able to make a 47% profit from just placing ten concecutive win bets... well, he would probably tell you not to ’mix medication’ or something like that. Or, he might ask you to come to a quiet table in the third floor bar, and buy you a drink in hope that you would reveal the secret. It is no secret. When it comes to the Preakness, it’s all there in black and white in the history books.

The betting can get it totally wrong as well in the second leg of the Triple Crown of course. As was the case in 1999, when the Wayne Lukas trained Derby shocker Charismatic was over 8-1 at Pimlico. Where he beat Menifee, just as he had at done a Churchill. Menifee was the 2-1 favorite, and in third came Badge, at a whopping 58-1. Such big priced horses do not hit the board as often here, as they do in the Derby, but it can happen.

Two years ago, the betting public went heavily againt another Derby winner, namely Giacomo, when he came to Pimlico. He went off at 6-1, and this time they were right. He could only manage third, behind Afleet Alex (fav.) and Scrappy T. Six years ago, Point Given, who had been well beaten behind Monarchos in the Run for The Roses, just edged Monarchos out for favoritism at Pimlico. Money talks, they say, and it proved correct again; Point Given won and Monarchos was only sixth.

Last year is one to exclude from our stats, after the sad injury to Barbaro. If you take that race out, your total payouts on those $100 bets would actually be $1470 from $900 – making a 63% profit! Well, Bernardini looked good last year but nobody knows what would have happened if Barbaro had not broken a leg. It was a terrible, terrible day for racing – but do not forget that injuries are unavoidable, in any sport. He was 1-2 favorite, by the way, and Bernardini paid 13-1. Because of Barbaro’s high profile, Bernardini was a tremendous ”each way” bet in England (win & show), and a similar scenario can develop this week. You can back Curlin at 5-1, way shorter than Bernardini, but at each-way it still looks like a bet to nothing. It is hard to imagine Curlin out of the first three, and collecting on the ’show part’ of the bet covers the win bet.

It seems that, when the majority of the win money is bet on the Derby winner in the Preakness, he wins the race, and when the money goes against him he loses. Smarty Jones, Funny Cide and War Emblem were all favorites when adding the Preakness to their even more prestigious Derby win. The early odds for this year’s Preakness show Street Sense at even money, and it is virtually guaranteed that he will start favorite. If he doesn't, do beware.


One final thought. It may be a concidence, but the betting public appear to have improved their understanding of the Preakness over the past ten years. Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and the aforementioned Charismatic (1999) were all opposed in the Preakness betting, and thus not favorites, despite all three having won the Derby. They all won at Pimlico. And now, over the past five runnings, three Derby winners have been made favorite at Pimlico. All three won.

We, the horseplaying men and women, have learnt how to play the Preakness. When it comes to the Derby, we are still, or at least most of us, fumbling in the dark. Could it have something to do with those Mint Juleps or is it simply a matter of a determination – also among horseplayers – to succeed in the end?

In reply to that quetion, we can borrrow a few more words from Winston Churchill’s verbal arsenal:

”Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

And in that spirit, seven or eight horses will line up against Street Sense in the Preakness. Good luck to them all!


Last update: 2007-05-13 08:29:38 (First published: 2007-05-13 08:10:26 )

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