Preakness Stakes Handicapping & Picks

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Last updated May 14th, 2021

How to Handicap the 2021 Preakness Stakes

Handicapping Picks for the Preakness Stakes

With a shorter distance than both the Kentucky Derby (1 1/4 miles) and the Belmont Stakes (traditionally 1 1/2 miles), often there are a few extra winkles to handicap through.

  • Speed
    • With the shorter distance, horses that often are thought of ‘sprinters’ or run 7 furlongs or less, have an opportunity to stretch out and provide a competitive try.
    • Early pace or front running speed often provides a strong strategy for hitting the finish line first.
  • Form
    • In a typical year, the top contenders exiting the Kentucky Derby are the top horses to pick in the Preakness Stakes.
    • Horses that may skip the Kentucky Derby, but are knowingly targeting the Preakness Stakes will be working and training to home in their performance to peak or be a top effort.

Preakness Handicapping Analysis

Preakness handicapping often boils down to a referendum on the Kentucky Derby winner.

If you think that the Derby winner was convincing, you’ll want to stick with him at Pimlico, where he’ll meet several of the same horses he beat at Churchill Downs. Some might argue that the Derby winner could “bounce,” or regress, coming back on just two weeks’ rest. Even so, a worthy Derby winner will typically maintain his high level of form in the Preakness.

But sometimes there are reasons to question the merit of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Did he spring an upset in circumstances that are unlikely to be repeated – such as benefiting from a total pace meltdown on the front end, taking to a sloppy track that others didn’t enjoy, or capitalizing on trouble suffered by other contenders?

If so, you’ll want to zero in on the Derby loser who’s most likely to rebound in the Preakness.

Every Kentucky Derby usually has at least one hard-luck story, so look for horses that were compromised by troubled trips, especially if they had been prime contenders with good BRIS Speed ratings. Perhaps a front-running type was softened up by pace pressure in the Derby, but could find an easier job as the controlling speed at Pimlico.

Part of the Preakness puzzle involves the “new shooters” who didn’t run in the Derby. Occasionally they can rise to the challenge, but it’s a better percentage play to opt for battle-tested horses coming out of the Derby crucible.

As with Kentucky Derby handicapping, the pace scenario, track conditions and BRIS Speed ratings are all important to consider. But unlike the Derby, post position is less of a detriment in the smaller field at Pimlico, and pedigree analysis tends to be less significant. The Derby runners are cutting back slightly in trip, and the new shooters are often proven at up to 1 1/8 miles, making the 1 3/16-mile Preakness not so much a leap into the unknown. 

Preakness Handicapping by Kentucky Derby Form

Unlike the first leg of the United States Triple Crown, there’s one clear race that’s the best guide for trying to find your Preakness Stakes winner.

The Kentucky Derby.

In the past 50 years, the Preakness Stakes has been won by just eight horses that didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby.

Four were in this millennium (Swiss Skydiver in 2020, Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Bernardini in 2006, and Red Bullet in 2000), while another three were in the early 1980s (Deputed Testamony in 1983, Aloma’s Ruler in 1982, and Codex in 1980). The eighth was Bee Bee Bee in 1972.

In the past 50 years, 17 Kentucky Derby winners went on to win the Preakness, while 25 beaten Derby runners would improve to win the Preakness.

Though Derby runners usually win the Preakness, the same doesn’t historically apply for horses that fill positions for multiples at Pimlico. Two recent Preakess second-place finishers, Cherry Wine and Tale of Verve, both missed the Kentucky Derby, and there’s usually at least one Derby non-runner that fills a superfecta spot. However, these horses should not be dismissed out of hand as potential winners to bet. Consider Swiss Skydiver in 2020, the impressive filly who ran 2nd in the Kentucky Oaks before winning the Preakness in October.