Betting the 2023 Preakness on different budgets

May 20th, 2023

Handicapping Saturday’s $1.5 million Preakness (G1) at Pimlico should be considerably easier than handicapping the recently contested Kentucky Derby (G1).

Simply from a mathematical perspective, there’s no comparing the two races. The Kentucky Derby featured 18 starters, so there were 306 possible exacta outcomes, 4,896 possible trifecta combinations, and 73,440 superfecta possibilities.

In contrast, the Preakness is expected to feature a field of seven following the scratch of #8 First Mission (5-2), reducing the number of options to consider to 42 in the exacta, 210 in the trifecta, and 840 in the superfecta.

But the simplicity extends beyond basic numbers. Only one Kentucky Derby starter has opted to pursue the Preakness, that being the victorious #3 Mage (8-5), who aims to keep Triple Crown hopes alive with victory at Pimlico. The other six starters are newcomers to the spring classics.

The scratch of First Mission alters the complexion of the Preakness field by removing a talented pace-tracking contender from the race. As a result, it appears there are only two potential speed horses in the field. The first is longshot #4 Coffeewithchris (20-1), who exits a tiring fifth-place finish in the Federico Tesio S. at Laurel Park. The other is #1 National Treasure (4-1), who adds blinkers off a fourth-place finish in a quick renewal of the Santa Anita Derby (G1). National Treasure wired his debut while wearing blinkers and enters off fast workouts at Santa Anita, suggesting he may sprint for the lead from the rail draw.

With only two pace players in a small field, the Preakness seems unlikely to unfold at a rapid tempo, which should lend a significant tactical advantage to National Treasure. But ironically, the lack of pace could also benefit Mage. The Kentucky Derby winner has a habit of breaking slowly, which worked to his advantage when the Derby unfolded with a destructive pace and Mage swooped from 16th place to win by one length.

But Mage isn’t necessarily a true deep closer. In his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park, Mage broke slowly before rushing up to set fractions of :22.78 and :45.88 on his way to a decisive 3 3/4-length victory. Setting the pace didn’t have any adverse effect on Mage’s finishing speed, as he dashed the final three furlongs in a quick :36.66.

Looking at the complexion of the Preakness field, Mage seems destined to work out a favorable trip. Assuming National Treasure (from post 1) and Coffeewithchris (from post 4) set out for the lead, with #2 Chase the Chaos (50-1), #5 Red Route One (10-1), and #7 Blazing Sevens (6-1) dropping off the pace as usual, then Mage figures to wind up sitting behind the speed in midpack. Only Federico Tesio winner #6 Perform (15-1) figures to race in the same general vicinity as Mage, and a modest pace should make it straightforward for Mage to secure a pace-tracking position even if he breaks slowly.

So how should we bet the Preakness? We’ve outlined three wagering strategies based on budgets of $24, $48, and $96. Each one involves boxing Mage and National Treasure in the first two slots of exotic wagers, counting on them to run 1-2 in either order. Underneath, we’ll use Blazing Sevens, Perform, and Red Route One.

$24 budget

  • $4 Trifecta: 1,3 with 1,3 with 5,6,7 ($24)

$48 budget

  • $8 Trifecta: 1,3 with 1,3 with 5,6,7 ($48)

$96 budget

  • $10 Trifecta: 1,3 with 1,3 with 5,6,7 ($60)
  • $2 Superfecta: 1,3 with 1,3 with 5,6,7 with 5,6,7 ($24)
  • $1 Super High 5: 1,3 with 1,3 with 5,6,7 with 5,6,7 with 5,6,7 ($12)

Good luck!