Handicapping a Triple Crown race is never an easy task. The fields are full of top-tier horses running the longest three races they’ve ever had, with much less rest in between than most stakes caliber horses have nowadays.
However, when it comes to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, there are a few factors that an enterprising bettor can use to narrow down their selections.
Never Discount The Derby Winner
Though it may seem counterintuitive, Kentucky Derby winners have often been dismissed at the Preakness betting windows, particularly if they were longshots coming into the Derby. However, historically, Kentucky Derby winners have a very high likelihood of making it into the superfecta in the Preakness.
Since 2000, there have only been five years in which the Kentucky Derby first place finisher failed to finish in the top four in the Preakness. Those five years include 2019, in which neither Maximum Security nor Country House contested the Preakness, and 2006, in which Derby winner Barbaro tragically broke down.
That leaves Always Dreaming (2017), Super Saver (2010), and Monarchos (2001) as the only Kentucky Derby winners this century who finished the Preakness outside of the top four.
That means that since 2000, when the Kentucky Derby winner finished in the Preakness, they hit the superfecta roughly 86% of the time, which most would consider a pretty safe bet. You can confirm it here, in this guide from TwinSpires: https://www.twinspires.com/preakness-stakes/betting
The Distance Myth
The Preakness is indeed the shortest of the Triple Crown races, but it is not itself a short race. At 1 3/16 miles, it is only a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby, a distance usually covered in about eight seconds.
Many casual bettors believe that horses whose stamina failed them in the Kentucky Derby will fare better in the Preakness due to the decreased distance, but the statistics do not back this belief up.
Since 2000, of the Preakness winners who had lost in the Kentucky Derby, only Point Given (2001), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Oxbow (2013), and War of Will (2019) had finished worse than fourth, and in most of those cases the losses could be attributed to factors other than lack of stamina, such as having a bad trip or an unfavorable pace scenario.
Targeting The Preakness
Horses that target the Kentucky Derby but fail to make it into the gate due to lack of points earnings rarely fare well in the Preakness, but a bettor would do well to consider a horse whose connections have explicitly targeted the second jewel of the Triple Crown rather than the first.
The human connections of these horses have often seriously considered their horse’s individual situations and have chosen to forego the prestige of the Derby in favor of a race they believe they are more likely to win.
In 2021, Rombauer’s third-place finish in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes earned him enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, but owner John Fradkin and trainer Michael McCarthy decided to point the son of Twirling Candy to the Preakness instead, believing it to be a better fit for his running style.
As well, Rombauer had earned an automatic place in the Preakness by winning the El Camino Real Derby. The connections were rewarded with a 3 ½ length victory, and his backers were rewarded with a return on 12-1 odds.
Similarly, trainer Chad Brown could have entered Cloud Computing in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, as the colt had finished second in Grade III Gotham Stakes and third in the Grade I Wood Memorial. However, he was pointed toward the Preakness, winning by a head.
Chad Brown also trains Early Voting, who finished second in this year’s Wood Memorial, and Brown has hinted that he may reserve this son of Gun Runner for the Preakness once more. If that is indeed the case, Early Voting would definitely be worth a second look.