HANDICAPPER HELPER: Bettor’s Guide to the Preakness Stakes

The Preakness is a little more predictable than the Kentucky Derby.

For the most part, the reasons are simple: The Derby winner plus a few other 3-year-olds he beat in the race and a bunch of new shooters generally narrows the field from 20 to 10.

On Saturday, there will be seven challengers (after the Wednesday morning scratch of 8-5 morning-line favorite Muth) as Derby winner Mystik Dan attempts to win the Preakness and set up a shot at the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes on June 8.

The Belmont will be run for the first time at Saratoga Race Course as Belmont Park is being rebuilt and will be run at the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles rather than the traditional 1 ½ miles.

Back to the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, which will be run for the 149th time on Saturday (149 races have been run as there were two divisions in 1918).  Mystik Dan is now the likely favorite for the second leg of the Triple Crown, which has seen the betting favorite win 73 times.

So, can Imagination come off a seven-week layoff and give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record-extending ninth Preakness win? Can Mystik Dan do it again? Is there a huge upset on tap?

Here’s a horse-by-horse analysis that might help steer you in the right direction (with jockey, trainer, odds).


1. MUGATU (Joe Bravo, Jeff Engler), 20-1

He doesn’t visit the winner’s circle often, as you can tell from his 1-for-12 record. While it’s hard to be enthusiastic about his victory prospects, Mugatu is a deep closer who can add value to the bottom slots on your trifecta and superfecta tickets. He reunites with jockey Joe Bravo, who was aboard for that lone victory last November in Florida.

2. UNCLE HEAVY (Irad Ortiz, Jr, Robert Reid, Jr.), 20-1

He’s a well-named large lumbering sort who hopes to follow in Smarty Jones’ hoofprints as a Pennsylvania-bred Preakness winner. Uncle Heavy sports a positive record at 3-for-5 but it should be noted that two of those wins came against inferior company at Parx Racing. Perhaps Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard for the first time, can work some magic.

3. CATCHING FREEDOM (Flavien Prat, Brad Cox), 6-1

The best closer in the race should be dangerous in this more compact field. Eight opponents are the fewest he’s faced since winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn on New Year’s Day. He rallied from 15th to get fourth in the Kentucky Derby, less than two lengths behind Mystik Dan. His lone graded victory came in the Louisiana Derby contested at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles.

4. MUTH (Juan Hernandez, Bob Baffert), 8-5

Scratched Wednesday morning due to illness.

5. MYSTIK DAN (Brian Hernandez, Jr., Ken McPeek), 5-2

With the defection of Muth, Mystik Dan becomes the Preakness favorite. He was both lucky and good to capture the Derby. He needed every bit of that ground-saving trip to preserve the energy needed to prevail in that dramatic three-way photo finish. The pace should play out differently here and he will need to do more to keep up in the early stages.

Seize The Grey. MJC Photo

6. SEIZE THE GREY (Jaime Torres, D. Wayne Lukas) 15-1

The first of two runners in the race for trainer Lukas, a six-time Preakness winner. Seize the Grey captured the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard and seems better suited to that distance. This is a reach on both class and distance.

7. JUST STEEL (Joel Rosario, D. Wayne Lukas), 15-1

Pressed a red-hot pace in the Derby and paid the price by fading to 17th.  This is the second Lukas-trained runner in the race. He should again be part of the early mix, but it’s hard to envision him hanging in there at the end.

8. TUSCAN GOLD (Tyler Gaffalione, Chad Brown), 8-1

This is only the fourth start for a colt with the least experience in the race, and the one who might have the biggest upside potential. It will be interesting to see if he can deliver on that promise in this high-profile spotlight. He was a solid third last time out in the Louisiana Derby, his stakes debut for trainer Chad Brown.

9. IMAGINATION (Frankie Dettori, Bob Baffert), 6-1

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert hedged his bets by bringing Imagination to Baltimore along with Muth. Imagination missed by only a neck in the Santa Anita Derby, proving he’s a legitimate player. Although Baffert lost his top gun, the silver-haired conditioner is well positioned to extend his Preakness record to nine wins in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Baffert would love to score a win here after Churchill Downs extended his ban, denying his horses a shot at the Kentucky Derby.

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