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Preakness Stakes Handicapping

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How to Handicap the 2019 Preakness Stakes

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 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 Stakes Handicapping Help

Using the 2017 Preakness Stakes as a guide...

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.

It’s called the Kentucky Derby.

In the past 50 years, the Preakness Stakes has been won by just seven horses that didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby. Three were in this millennium (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 seventh was Bee Bee Bee in 1972.

In that 50 years, 20 Kentucky Derby winners went on to win the Preakness, while 23 beaten Derby runners would improve to win the Preakness. Eleven of those 23 had finished in the first four at Churchill Downs, while the other 12 finished further back, including two (Louis Quatorze in 1996 and Snow Chief in 1986) that didn’t finish in the Derby top 10.

Apart from the impressive Derby winner Always Dreaming, four beaten Derby runners are likely to contest the Preakness: Lookin At Lee (second), Classic Empire (fourth), Gunnevera (seventh), and Hence (11th).

Of those, Classic Empire probably has the best claims, given that the bumping he suffered at the start of the Derby probably prevented him making a stronger challenge. The other three are also worth consideration, though they are closers that might not enjoy the Preakness being 1/16th of a mile shorter than the Derby. The possibility of a drier track than that which prevailed on Derby day may also help these four improve at Pimlico, while sometimes horses just improve.

Though Derby runners usually win the Preakness, the same doesn’t historically apply for horses that fill positions for multiples at Pimlico. The past two 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.

Non-Derby runners that are likely to contest the Preakness includes two horses that tried to qualify for the Derby field but failed (Royal Mo and Term of Art), and two that weren’t mature enough to run in many Derby preps who have taken a different path to the Preakness (Illinois Derby winner Multiplier and Lexington Stakes winner Senior Investment).

There are also two horses that qualified for a Derby start, but whose connections decided to wait for the Preakness. Lack of maturity was the main reason Cloud Computing didn’t run at Churchill Downs, while expense probably played some part in the decision to save Conquest Mo Money for the Preakness: he wasn’t nominated for the Triple Crown and a $200,000 late entry fee was required – though they still required a $150,000 late entry fee for the Preakness.

On form, Conquest Mo Money looks the best of the newcomers: he was close behind Classic Empire and finished ahead of Lookin At Lee when second in the Arkansas Derby, form which looks very good heading in to the Preakness. But in the end, Cloud Computing did defeat the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming.

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