Picking a winner in the Preakness Stakes is typically not nearly as difficult as finding the winner of the Kentucky Derby is. If a bettor isn’t careful, though, there are some mistakes that are easy to make that can get in the way of finding that winner, or which can make it hard to make a profit even if you do pick the winner. Here are four of the biggest mistakes people make when betting on the Preakness:
Falling in love with the Derby winner – I am as guilty of this one as anyone. I am desperate to see a Triple Crown winner, so every year the horse that wins the Derby instantly becomes my favorite horse in the country, and the only one I am really hoping for. The problem is that every casual or square bettor in the country – and a lot of pretty sophisticated ones as well – will be thinking the exact same way. That means that the winner of the Derby, because of how pari-mutuel betting is structured, is almost always going to be heavily bet down and will go off at a price that is well below what he would if he wasn’t getting so much attention because of his win. Even a horse that went off at 20/1 or higher in the Derby will often be at lower than 4/1 in the Preakness just because of the public attention. Because the horse is so bet down and so heavily focused on compared to the rest of the field there is going to be very little, if any, value in betting on the horse. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bet on the Derby winner – sometimes he is clearly the best horse and deserves the attention. It just means you need to be as objective as you can be and make sure that the horse is worthy of the low price given what he has accomplished and what he seems capable of. If the horse doesn’t seem to live up to the hype then you need to pass on him. If he stands up under the scrutiny and seems to be as good as people thinks he is then you have to get creative to find ways to overcome the lack of value and create the best potential return that you can. Either way, you just can’t afford to blindly fall in love with the Derby winner before closely looking at the horse.
Discounting horses that finished down the board in the Derby – If a horse finished eighth in the Derby then it can be tempting to assume that the horse just isn’t very good and doesn’t need to be considered seriously in the Preakness. Before you discount the Derby also-rans, though, you need to look closely to see if they ran a bad race at Churchill, or if they have legitimate excuses. Did he run into traffic problems that stopped him from running his best race? Did the pace turn out very badly for him? Were the track conditions not suited to him – a wet track, for example? Did he draw a post position that was working against him? Did his jockey ride a particularly bad race? Horses are allowed to run a bad race, and it’s not uncommon for that bad race to come in the harsh conditions of the Derby. If he has been entered in the Preakness after a bad Derby then the trainer obviously feels like he is still capable of a better performance. That means he is worth your attention.
Giving fresh horses too much credit – Typically about half of the field in the Preakness was not in the Derby. If the Derby field doesn’t seem overwhelming then it can be tempting to think that these fresh horses are going to have an edge against the tired Derby horses. Sometimes that is the case – Rachel Alexandra and Bernardini both won the Preakness after not running in the Derby. More often, though, the reason the horse skipped the Derby is because they didn’t qualify, they weren’t ready for the race, or they just weren’t good enough. If they weren’t good enough for the Derby then it takes a big leap of faith to assume they will be ready to win the Preakness. I’m not saying that you can’t bet on one of these horses. You’ll just want to make sure that you have a very good reason to make the bet.
Betting on too many horses – In the Derby you can typically afford to go pretty deep with your bets. Some years I have made money despite betting on as many as a dozen different horses in the exotics. The maximum field size in the Preakness is just 14 compared to the 20 of the Derby, though, so you just can’t go as deep. Besides that, the favorite will be bet down a lot, so prices for exotics involving that horse won’t be as good as they would ideally be. That all means that you have to be far more selective and choosy in betting the Preakness than you do in the Derby.