When you are trying to handicap the Preakness Stakes successfully you really have to start with one crucially important question – is the Kentucky Derby winner any good? For two weeks the Derby winner is the best known horse on the planet, so he is going to get a whole lot of attention from the betting public. As a result his odds in the Preakness are all but guaranteed to be lower than they would ideally be based on his ability and what he has to overcome to win this race. If you are convinced he is good then you will have to look for creative ways to find as much value as you can in betting on him – typically by using him in exotic bets. If you don’t think he is any good then you can avoid betting on him, and you have a good shot at finding particularly attractive value on other horses because they are likely being comparatively ignored. Accurately judging the Derby winner, then, is an important key in the search for profit as a handicapper of thoroughbreds. Here are seven questions bettors can ask to help you judge the winner effectively:
Was it a legitimate win? – To a large extent the Derby win is always legitimate – he came out on top of 20 horses desperate for the win. Sometime, though, that win was more dependent on circumstances than other times. Smart handicappers ask questions. Was it an off track? Did the horse benefit from traffic problems that impacted other horses? Did a strange pace – really fast or really slow – give the horse a particular edge? Most significantly, did he look like he was running within himself and could do it again, or did he seem to leave it all on the track?
How did he close? – The single things I am most interested in as a bettor when evaluating the Derby winner is his time in the last quarter mile of the race. If it is best described as plodding, and is well slower than the opening quarter of the three in between then the horse was struggling, and I’m not that convinced that he has a whole lot left to offer. Basically, it’s possible that he didn’t win the race so much as the other horses lost it. If the horse closed strong, though, then we know a few things – he’s fit, he’s a fighter, and he can be paced effectively.
Is he versatile enough? – In handicapping horses, I’ve found my favorite type of Derby winner is one that wins despite not having been able to run their ideal type of race. I’m less impressed if a horse that is normally a front-runner gets the lead in the Derby and stays there than I would be if that horse was shuffled to the middle of the pack early on and had to adjust and fight for the win. The Triple Crown is all about handling adversity, so a horse that showed he could handle that in Derby is a horse I will be particularly interested. A horse that got his dream trip in the Derby will be harder to back at his low price because he could be dependent on getting lucky enough to get that dream trip again in the Preakness to win.
Can the trainer handle the situation? – The Derby winning trainer is under an intense amount of pressure and scrutiny. The two weeks between the races is one of the only times all year that the sports media cares about horse racing, and all of that care and interest is focused on one horse and one trainer. Some trainers can handle that pressure and still get his horse ready for the race, and others can’t do so nearly as well. Derby bettors need to have some sense that the trainer will handle it well before you can really trust the horse.
How is he working? – The Derby winner likely won’t get hard, fast workouts between the two races, but he will hit the track for jogs and light works. It’s important to get a sense of how he looks in those works. Does he seem comfortable and sound? Is his coat still shiny? Is he focused and working like he typically does?
What’s his breeding? – Class isn’t something we talk about with people, but with horses it is crucial. Winning these two races just two weeks apart is an incredibly difficult task for a horse. To pull it off he needs to have a whole lot of class running through his veins that has been passed down from his ancestors. Does the horse have stamina in his genes? Does he have horses in his pedigree who have shone in the Triple Crown, or who have won big races in tough conditions? Frankly, is he bred well enough to pull this off?
Who is he running against? – Experienced bettors known that the weaker the field is that the thoroughbred has to beat in the Preakness, the less dominant or special he needs to be to win the race. Was he clearly better than the horses that he beat in the Derby? Is he likely to be better against the ones he has to face again in the Preakness? Are there any fresh horses joining the Triple Crown trail that are good enough to be scary?