Lack of Derby winner but no lack of value in Preakness

Alwaysmining
Ridden by Daniel Centeno to victory in the Federico Tesio Stakes, Alwaysmining brings a six-race winning streak into the Preakness, where he could benefit from the absence of the Kentucky Derby winner. (photo courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club)

No Omaha Beach. No Maximum Security. No Country House. I get the feeling when I get on the plane to fly to Baltimore next week, there will no one else going to the Preakness.

 

The general public may be rueful about the way the Kentucky Derby turned out and how there will not even be a whiff of a Triple Crown this spring. But for bettors, the absence of the biggest names among 3-year-olds is good news and bad news.

 

The down side is that a short-priced Kentucky Derby winner will not be sucking up a ton of Pimlico money and creating overlays for his rivals. The best part is that the favorite will be more attractive, because he will not carry the odds-on price that he has five of the last six years.

 

Maybe.

 

There is not much of a precedent to study since the Preakness has been de rigueur for Derby winners since 1960. The last time that one did not show up at Baltimore was 1996, when Grindstone was diagnosed between races with career-ending knee chips. Before that it was 1985, when Spend A Buck successfully chased moneyman Robert Brennan’s infamous $2 million bonus at the Jersey Derby. And there was 1982, when connections felt that the Preakness’s shorter distance was not a good fit for Gato Del Sol.

 

A check of those three Preakness charts reveals that the betting market was clustered among a few horses each year.

 

The 1996 winner Louis Quatorze (8-1), ridden by Pat Day, was the fifth betting choice after finishing 16th in the Derby. Three of the four shortest-priced horses – Skip Away (3-1), Editor’s Note (6-1) and Cavonnier (8-5) – filled out a $1 superfecta that paid $876.40.

 

In 1985 the third betting choice Tank’s Prospect (9-2), also ridden by Day, won after finishing seventh in the Derby. Chief’s Crown (1-1) and Eternal Prince (2-1) were second and third. The $2 exacta paid only $24.40, and there was no trifecta betting.

 

Carrying 16-year-old jockey “Cowboy” Jack Kaenel, Aloma’s Ruler (6-1) led the whole way to win the 1982 Preakness by a half-length over Blue Grass winner Linkage (1-2). But that was a very different era proven by the fact that Aloma’s Ruler had raced only a week earlier, winning the Withers Mile at Aqueduct.

 

So what can be gleaned from these three races that might be useful for bettors in 2019? The most obvious trend is that Derby graduates are usually better than new shooters. In 1996 the top seven Preakness finishers came out of Kentucky and in 1985 the top four. The 1982 race was exceptional; the two shooters finished ahead of all five Derby horses.

 

That trend is not isolated. Since 1984 only four horses that did not race in the Kentucky Derby went on to win the Preakness, most recently Cloud Computing in 2017. The Derby dominance was further evidenced by the fact that 22 of the last 27 Preakness winners not only raced at Kentucky but finished no worse than sixth there.

 

The rationale is that the best 3-year-olds make it to the Derby, and those that do not are substandard. For every Cloud Computing or Bernardini, there are five or six other Preakness winners that validated their worth when they raced two weeks earlier at Churchill Downs.

 

Applying this pattern to next week’s Preakness field, the probable starters with Derby entries on their résumés include off-shore betting favorites Improbable (3-2 at Bovada, crossed fifth at Kentucky), bidding to provide trainer Bob Baffert with a record-breaking eighth win in the race, and War Of Will (4-1 at US Racing, 8th), the horse that was cut off at the pass by the disqualified winner Maximum Security. They also include Win Win Win (8-1 in Europe, 10th) and Bodexpress (10-1 at Bovada, 14th), bidding to be the first maiden to win the Preakness since 1888.

 

The two shooters that seem best positioned to hit the board next week are Alwaysmining (13-2 at Bovada), winner of six in a row in Maryland including last month’s Federico Tesio, and Anothertwistafate (8-1 at Bovada), twice a runner-up despite less than ideal trips in the Sunland Derby and Lexington Stakes. Both are candidates to provide early speed in a field largely lacking it.

 

But pace projections and specifics on the race can wait a few more days. One never knows, after all, what the late RSVPs may say.

 

Racing notes and opinions

 

Where Kentucky Derby futures lasted for weeks ahead of the race, Las Vegas bookmakers are bearish on posting early odds for the Preakness. Jay Kornegay said “we haven’t decided yet” when asked Thursday if the Westgate Superbook USA would post odds. The coming week presents a lot of activity for sports books to manage and stretch their staffs, especially with the move of the PGA Championship from August.

 

Gary and Mary West are not giving up their fight to reclaim the Kentucky Derby victory that they had for 22 minutes. Through the spokesman at Monmouth Park, New Jersey, the owners of deposed winner Maximum Security put out an announcement to announce that when they take their next step that they will have another announcement. “We are left to evaluate our legal options, which we are doing,” the Wests said. “We belive that with a just and proper hearing of our case, Maximum Security will be restored as the rightful winner. ... We will be making additional public statements in the near future advising of our course of action.” While I agree that Maximum Security should not have been disqualified, I also believe that he committed a foul. In my mind it is just a question of the punishment. As for the Wests’ refusal to let it go, my first thought is life is too short. In fact, that is my last thought, too. As Bryant Gumbel says, let’s move on.

 

Teresa Boissiere of Ohio held what she thought was a winning ticket worth $250,000 on Maximum Security. But like the Wests, she gave Derby stewards 22 minutes, and they gave her a big letdown. Boissiere told KIRO Radio, Seattle, that she won a trip to Kentucky last weekend through Rocket Mortgage. Another part of her prize was a blind draw of the Derby horses, presumably along with at least 18 other sweepstakes winners. She drew Maximum Security and then experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It turned out that the man right next to her, Allen Jefferson of Illinois, was the beneficiary of the stewards’ decision, because he drew Country House. Despite seeing the quarter-mill jump from her bank account to Jefferson’s, Boissiere took an easy path to the high road. “I just am happy that a really sweet, young couple got it,” she told KIRO. “They’re both police officers in Chicago, and they have four little ones. So I felt like it went to a good place.”

 

Four colts that hit detours on the road to the Kentucky Derby face the challenge of an up-and-coming 3-year-old in Saturday’s speed-laden renewal of the $300,000 Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes, the traditional prep for next month’s Belmont Stakes. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velázquez, morning-line favorite Intrepid Heart (7-5) is 2-for-2 coming off an allowance win last month at Keeneland. While adding 110 yards to get this weekend’s 1⅛ miles, this $750,000 Tapit colt will carry seven fewer pounds. Global Campaign (8-5) was fifth in the Fountain of Youth and may be a miler out of his element. After getting bottlenecked at the start, Final Jeopardy (3-1) was a distant sixth in the Wood Memorial. Seventh in the Holy Bull, Federal Case (8-1) is trained by Pletcher but looks more like a sprinter. A troubled trip last month left Sir Winston (8-1) to finish a distant seventh in the Blue Grass. The bet here will be on Final Jeopardy. Írad Ortiz Jr. is reunited with this Street Sense colt that he has ridden to two victories. Besides, after they saw Maximum Security disqualified last week in the Derby, the Wests and trainer Jason Servis could use an uncomplicated victory. The Peter Pan at Belmont Park, New York, is scheduled for Saturday at 3:08 p.m. EDT.

 

It comes as no surprise that trainer Chad Brown has the morning-line favorite in the top American turf race this weekend. Six weeks after winning the Pan American Stakes in Florida, the deep-closing 5-year-old Focus Group (5-2) is one of nine horses racing Saturday in the $700,000 Grade 1 Man O’War Stakes around 1⅜ miles of the inner turf at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old filly Magic Wand (3-1), runner-up in the Pegasus Turf, comes back from a fifth-place finish in the Dubai Sheema Classic and is one of two in the field racing for Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien. Mike Maker’s 6-year-old gelding Zulu Alpha (4-1) won a pair of graded stakes this winter at Gulfstream Park and was most recently seen finishing third at Keeneland in a wet running of the Elkhorn. Channel Maker (6-1) won the Bowling Green and Joe Hirsch last year but seems better suited for a wet track, which is not expected to be the case this weekend. My lean is to Zulu Alpha, partly because he cuts back from 1½ miles, partly because he gets Javier Castellano, partly because he has won his last three starts on firm turf and partly because I do not see him being the favorite. But my confidence level here is not high, so more power to anyone who begs to differ. The Man O’War is posted to start Saturday at 6:24 p.m. EDT.

 

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts with a pop-up also scheduled for next Thursday focused on handicapping each horse in next week’s Preakness Stakes. In the current episode two-time Eclipse Award-winning writer and handicapper John Scheinman takes an early look at the horses likely to race next weekend at Pimlico. Hall of Fame jockey Víctor Espinoza talks about his comeback from a life-threatening injury last summer and how it feels strange to be on the sidelines of the Triple Crown. Listener feedback stokes the ongoing discussion of the Kentucky Derby controversy, and there is a comment on what racing ought to do to turn that debate into a positive. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at Apple, Google, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.

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