Triple Crown chase ending quietly at Pimlico

By Ron Flatter  ( 

September 29, 2020 10:18 PM

The memory of who said it is foggy. It was definitely a trainer, probably before a Kentucky Derby. And probably between rounds of drinks in Louisville.

The quote still rings loud and clear in the memory bank: “The morning line is worth every cent that goes into it.”

Normally that would be followed by some jape about how it is just one person’s opinion at the racetrack. How futures bets, even prejudiced by bookmaker liability, reflect real trends. How time and time again those fixed prices look more like the post-time odds than that hackneyed estimate that comes out with the post-position draw.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. One Las Vegas bookmaker, William Hill, copied and pasted Monday’s Pimlico morning line and made it available to Nevada bettors. More than 24 hours later, the odds still had not changed.

The lack of creativity in aggregating track handicapper Keith Feustle’s forecast, though, mirrors the apparent lack of interest in the race not only around the state but maybe around the world.

With Authentic winning the Kentucky Derby, and with Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law skipping this weekend to rest for the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic, this year’s Preakness resembles a Triple Crown finale that does not have a Triple Crown in play.

It may not even be as good as those Belmont Stakes in years past when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners were not the same horse, and neither showed up on Long Island, and the best race was the one when the gates opened at 8 a.m. and spectators (remember them?) battled for the picnic tables in the Belmont Park backyard.

Maybe it is the fact that this final classic of the year is going on at the same time as the NBA Finals. Oh, wait. That happens almost every year. Never mind.

This time there is the distraction of college football. And the baseball playoffs. And the vitriol that goes with the climax of the political season. Those things do not usually compete for attention with the Triple Crown finale when it is in early June.

Even the betting angles seem tepid. Will Authentic bounce coming out of the Kentucky Derby? Yeah, right. Asking that ignores the curriculum vitae of one Robert A. Baffert, whose five previous Derby winners that went to Pimlico were undefeated in the Preakness. Authentic disproved the critics like me who did not think he could go 10 furlongs in Louisville. So 9½ in Baltimore should be no problem, right?

Authentic might be regarded as an overlay on the morning-cum-William Hill line, but is 9-5 worth it? Now that the race has been drawn, a horse has to get to the gate for action at Circa Sports, where Authentic is not quite 9-5 (+ 175). With the risk removed of a horse missing the race, it is simply a case of betting whether the parimutuel track odds will be shorter at post time.

New shooters should bring value, right? Not necessarily with Blue Grass and Ellis Park Derby winner Art Collector (+ 280 at Circa), 11th-hour Kentucky Derby scratch Thousand Words (+ 645) or the filly Swiss Skydiver (7-1). All have generated some early steam since Monday’s draw.

Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver should provide more early speed in the Preakness than the Derby had. That would not be hard, since Authentic was almost all the early speed in the Derby. Try as he might, Ny Traffic (16-1) could not keep up, and he faded to finish eighth.

This race is 110 yards shorter, so maybe the pace comes back to the rest of the field. Again, though, this is a bet against Baffert and John Velazquez, the Hall of Fame jockey who has won more purse money than any rider in the history of the sport. Then again, Velazquez is 0-for-9 in the Preakness, including last year when he was thrown at the start by Bodexpress.

If a case is to be made that the pace could crumble late, maybe Mr. Big News (13-1) comes into the picture the way he did when he closed to finish third at Churchill Downs and pay $16.80 to show. Or how about the two closers among the three Steve Asmussen-trained starters? Max Player (15-1) made up five places to take fifth in the Derby. Before his six-month break, Excession (30-1) finished a close second to former Derby favorite Nadal in the Rebel Stakes — three days after Rudy Gobert tested positive.

But those three horses have combined for one graded-stakes victory — Max Player’s victory eight months ago in the Withers at Aqueduct. And that was for another trainer. Linda Rice guided him to two wins, a second and two thirds in six starts. But word is that she and lead owner George Hall differed on whether to go to the Derby, and that was when Hall sent Max Player to Asmussen. In a sense, then, it is a nearly clean slate.

Again, though, if those odds are representative of what the tote board will say Saturday, is it worth jumping in on a futures bet?

Maybe that is as big a reason why this finish to the Triple Crown season is so unfulfilling. It is all whimper and no bang.

If Authentic wins the Preakness, it will certainly stir up a duel between him and Tiz The Law about which horse should be the best 3-year-old male, presuming neither wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But that is a debate that will not accelerate until after this weekend’s race is run.

Perhaps a storyline will percolate and raise interest before Saturday. But until it does, it was only appropriate that William Hill adopted the morning line for its futures book in Nevada, a state that flexes its hostility to horseplayers by refusing advance-deposit wagering and locking out bets on most of the nation’s racetracks.

Even nationally, though, if one thing is certain to be said after this year’s Preakness, it will come from mainstream sports bettors. They are bound to say, “I had no idea the Preakness was last week.” That should be yes-no prop — with a minus price on the yes.

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