by Noel Michaels
The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, will be run Saturday, May 18 in its usual spot two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. With the Kentucky Derby DQ winner and other 3-year-old hopefuls now heading to Baltimore for the Preakness, this is the perfect time for handicappers to turn their attention to Pimlico. In addition to the Preakness, a total of 14 other stakes races will be run at Pimlico on Friday and Saturday, May 17-18 alone.
The 2019 Preakness could feature a nine-horse field led by Kentucky Derby winner Country House. Trainer Bill Mott had no intentions of running Country House in the Preakness until he was declared the winner of the Derby, thanks to the disqualification of Maximum Security. After all, he seems unsuited for success in the Preakness with his late-running style in what would be his third start in five weeks for a barn that did not want to point him for the race in the first place.
Mott hinted he felt an obligation to send Country House to the Preakness as the Derby winner. That sets up a scenario where this running of the Preakness could be very unusual, in that the Kentucky Derby winner will potentially not be the favorite.
Most of the 2019 Preakness field will be made-up of new shooters with very few also-rans from the Kentucky Derby taking another shot at Country House at Pimlico. From the Derby, only third-place finisher (second via DQ) Code of Honor, and War of Will, who drew the Derby death rail and then was interfered with by Maximum Security, will head to Baltimore for the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Bodexpress is considered possible.
The rest of the Preakness field will be made up of new shooters. At no time in recent memory has there been a Preakness more likely to be won by one of the new shooters than in this year’s running. The remaining six Preakness probables are led by Maryland monster Alwaysmining, plus a solid line-up of others including Anothertwistafate, Laughing Fox, Mr. Money, Owendale, and Signalman.
Other possibles include Bourbon War and Sueno.
Preakness Day will feature four graded stakes races, including undercard events, the Maryland Sprint Handicap (G3), the Gallorette Handicap (G3), and the Dixie Stakes (G2) on the turf. Four more ungraded stakes will also be on the card, including the Chick Lang Stakes, The Very One Stakes, the James W. Murphy Stakes, and the Sir Barton. It is annually one of the year’s best race cards.
The Preakness weekend action at Pimlico starts early on Friday, May 17, when the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes headlines a 14-race card that also includes seven stakes races. The co-feature will be the Pimlico Special, and the highly bettable undercard includes races like the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, the Miss Preakness, the Skipat Stakes, the Rollicking Stakes, the Hilltop Stakes, and the Dupont Distaff.
A common misconception is that Pimlico has “tighter turns” than most tracks. The fact is Pimlico’s turns are no “tighter” than any other common track layout. The turns may appear different to other tracks based on Pimlico’s odd dimensions, which include a very long stretch run that just so happens to offer no apparent help to the late runners.
The reason I mention the myth about the supposedly tight turns at Pimlico is because that one misconception often leads to another prominent misconception — that Pimlico is strictly an inside-biased track.
For years, handicappers have referred to Pimlico as an inside speed track, when in reality, for more than a decade since 2005, they have been only half right. Pimlico is generally a speed-biased track. Early speed horses and front runners (horses on the pace or within 2 lengths of the front at the first call) have the preferred winning running style at every distance on Pimlico’s main track. However, in recent years, Pimlico has shown very little statistical indication that the rail, or any of the inside posts for that matter, are any better than any other middle or outside post.
This perceived inside bias, or lack thereof, is important for horseplayers to note when handicapping Pimlico, because the horses drawing the inside posts are almost always overbet due to their post positions. Since the inside posts no longer really offer any statistical aid to a horse’s chances of winning, however, handicappers are often left with overlay odds on the horses breaking from the middle or outside gates.
A look at recent Pimlico race meets shows middle and outside posts winning at good percentages each year, especially in two turn route races where you’d expect innermost post positions to do best. The inside posts (1-3) are statistically no more likely to win than the outside posts 7-8. As a matter of fact, when rarely-used posts 12 and higher are removed from the equation, Pimlico outside posts actually have performed better than inside ones, based on win percentage and ROI, in Pimlico routes.
Other than that, the day-to-day racing and wagering action at Pimlico is essentially an extension of Maryland racing’s main season at Laurel. One thing to watch for at Pimlico, however, is the horse-for-course angle. Certain horses, for whatever reason, really seem to love Pimlico.
Scan the career records of veteran horses for competitors with multiple wins at Pimlico. Chances are they may be able to positively turn around their form in a hurry if they come off some sub-par losses at Laurel and elsewhere — and pay good prices when they do. This goes for turf horses too.
Even if Maryland racing is not your forte, the racing at Pimlico is worth watching and wagering for all serious horseplayers all throughout Preakness weekend. Good luck and good racing at Pimlico and in the Preakness!
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.