Speed rules the Preakness.
That is the common belief, held even by fellow US Racing contributor Casey Laughter, in her most recent column Can Nyquist Overcome Other Preakness Speed.
The truth of the matter is that speed does not rule the Preakness.
In the last 10 runnings, only three horses have actually wired the Preakness. They were Rachel Alexandra (in 2009), Oxbow (2013) and our Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, just last year.
California Chrome, who won the 2014 running of the race, tracked the pace. He was two and a half lengths off the lead after the first quarter, two lengths off at the half, and only one length back by the time the field hit six furlongs.
In 2011, Shackleford was never far off the pace, but he did not wire the field. It should also be noted that Animal Kingdom, who ran second, was able to close from over 18 lengths back. That doesn’t necessarily lend credence to the argument that speed rules.
Speaking of statistics lending credence, here is a rather compelling one: Horses that were four or more lengths off the pace have won five of the last 10 editions of the Preakness.
Bernardini: Four lengths behind after six furlongs. He won by over five lengths.
Curlin: 13 lengths behind after the first half-mile and over five back after six furlongs; he won by a head.
Big Brown: Four behind after the first half-mile, surged to the front at the mile call and drew away.
Lookin At Lucky: Five behind after a half-mile, closed to win by three parts of a length.
I’ll Have Another: Four behind after the first six furlongs. He closed relentlessly to collar loose-on-the-lead Bodemeister.
In addition to this, closers have done quite well even in the years when speed prevailed. Ride on Curlin, Mine That Bird, Animal Kingdom, Itsmyluckyday, and Tale of Verve all ran on to capture second place. Three of those five came from over 15 lengths behind. The other two came from 8 ¾ lengths back and 5 ½ lengths behind.
With this information how can anyone claim that speed rules this race?
Over the last 10 years, not only have closers taken half the runnings, but closers have finished in the exacta in each of the last 10 editions of the Preakness.
That isn’t speed ruling the race… that is closers dominating it.