Casual 2011 Preakness Stakes Preview

The Preakness is kind of lame. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Over the last two years I am America's elite Kentucky Derby handicapper and there is absolutely no evidence to dispute it.   In this space I have offered you two consecutive BACK TO BACK winning Kentucky Derby trifecta wagers that had you listened and done what I told you, you would be enjoying boat drinks staring into a pool full of your winnings instead of trying to find horse advice on a damn Georgetown Hoyas blog.  But, because most of you are idiots, you decided not to listen.  I don't blame you, really.  You probably figured that "Hey, this Casual guy, what the hell does he know about race horses?  All he cares about is Nate Lubick."  And to an extent you are absolutely right.  But to another extent, you are horribly wrong.    

The Preakness Stakes is a Triple Crown race that I usually don't touch for a variety of reasons that will be explained in a bit, but since there were a handful of you that have emailed me clamoring for advice that will help make you rich, I felt compelled to take a look at this year's race and offer you any thoughts I may have.  Away we go...

Preakness analysis after The Jump:

At the outset let me address my strategy for proper horse wagering.  For those that took the time to read my Derby opuses (opi? opii?) the last two years, you already know that my goal in picking ponies is to uncover the horses that might finish in the top three that have the most value.  I don't want to simply make a pick on the horses that may win, I want to pick the horses that may show up and stuff your wallets.  To that end you're not going to find me betting on just the three horses that are favored to win a race, because frankly it's not worth my time to return to the betting window to cash a $20 win ticket.  YES MY TIME IS THAT VALUABLE.  Here we aim to break the bank, and therein lies the precise problem with wagering on the Preakness Stakes.  Por ejemplo, below is a fancy chart courtesy of my good friends at  And Down The Stretch They Come, the most casually named site for horse racing enthusiasts on the internet, that displays the payouts in the Preakness since the year 2000:


Preakness Vertical Wagers, 2000-2010

Year-Winner

$2 Win

$2 Exacta

$2 Trifecta

$2 Super

2010 - Lookin At Lucky

$6.80

$188.60

$2,771.00

$17,126.00

2009 - Rachel Alexandra

$5.60

$39.20

$216.20

$2,903.80

2008 - Big Brown

$2.40

$36.60

$336.80

$1,192.30

2007 - Curlin

$8.80

$23.20

$50.00

$340.30

2006 - Bernardini

$27.80

$171.60

$3,912.80

$11,151.20

2005 - Afleet Alex

$8.60

$152.60

$872.00

$10,362.30

2004 - Smarty Jones

$3.40

$24.60

$177.20

$230.70

2003 - Funny Cide

$5.80

$120.60

$684.20

$792.20

2002 - War Emblem

$7.60

$327.00

$2,311.00

$6,701.50

2001 - Point Given

$6.60

$81.40

$279.00

$171.30

2000 - Red Bullet

$14.40

$24.00

$115.80

$2,235.50

 

Egads!  Where's the beef?  The problem with the Preakness from a value standpoint is twofold:  1) the Derby winner comes into the race as a heavy betting favorite, and 2) the Derby winner usually hits the board.  In fact, from 2000 - 2011 the horse that won the Derby has finished in the top 3 in the Preakness a whopping EIGHT TIMES.  Even Derby longshot craphouses like Giacomo and Mine That Bird finished in the money.  So what's the takeaway here?  If you want to make money on a race like this you have to take risks, and then you need the heavy favorites either break their legs (see Barbaro in '06 Preakness) or simply decide to stop running (see Big Brown in '08 Belmont).  And since no one wants these animals to get hurt or give up, this is a very difficult race to win big on.  With that in mind, here's my analysis of this year's field of 14:


1. Astrology: 15-1
Astrology is one of nine "new shooters" in the Preakness field, his handlers opting to skip the Derby to instead give it a whirl in the shorter and less crowded Preakness.  Astrology is trained by Steve Asmussen, who once you get by that last name has found success in this race before, winning with Rachel Alexandra in 2009.  I don't love Astrology, and I don't think he'll take to the distance.  He has come on nicely to hit the board in his last two races but those were against much weaker competition  Verdict: There is better value at 15-1 out there. TOSS. 

2. Norman Asbjornson: 30-1
Norman is 30-1 as of now and will likely be much longer come post time.  Norm doesn't have Triple Crown speed and his past performances indicate he's probably more comfortable with a lesser distance, with his two career wins both coming at a mile and a mile and 1/16th.  He won't be out setting the pace and there are much stronger closers in the field that should push him towards the middle of the pack.  Verdict: TOSS.

3. King Congie: 20-1
King will be ridden by jockey Robbie Albarado, who was supposed to ride Animal Kingdom in the Derby before a wrist injury left him without a mount.  It would be a nice story for Albarado to win the Preakness on a different horse, and this horse has been improving gradually.  Decent 93 Beyer figure in the Blue Grass in a game effort to grab 3rd, followed an 88 and an 85 in prior wins.  The big question with King Cong is whether he'll take to dirt, and at 20-1 it might be worthwhile to see if he can.  There was another horse that had two career wins (none on dirt) and went off at 20-1 odds in the Derby.  That horse was named Animal Kingdom.  Verdict: Include in aggressive exotics.

4. Flashpoint: 20-1
Speed, speed, and more speed, I expect Flashpoint will be one of the horses out front early that sets the pace and then gets RUN DOWN down the stretch.  Has the speed to win races at a mile distance, but unfortunately this race is 1 and 3/16ths.  I don't think he can sustain what will likely be his lead heading into the second turn.  Verdict: TOSS.

5. Shackleford: 12-1
 I love this horse.  Not so much because he may hit the board at the Preakness, but because it was Shackleford's late fade in the Derby that allowed Mucho Macho Man to grab 3rd and seal the defense of my 2010 Kentucky Derby Trifecta Title.  In fact, I have already ordered this to properly commemorate the win.  Shack was very impressive in the Derby, nearly going wire to wire until that final furlong caught up to him.  Here, that final furlong doesn't even exist!  Verdict: Speed figures of 93 in the Florida Derby and a 97 in the Kentucky Derby merit Shack's inclusion.  At the 5 post he's well positioned to have a good trip, but the big question is whether he can hold on for a piece of the action.

6. Sway Away: 15-1
In the impressive Arkansas Derby, Sway's first race at a mile and 1/8th, Sway went from leading the pack at the top of the stretch to finishing 4th, notching a 93 Beyer in the process but perhaps more tellingly showing that he might not be suited for these distances.  However, in that race he ran from 6th to 1st before fading, and in prior races he has shown the ability to close.  Maybe in the Arkansas he just made his move to soon?  Verdict: Sway Away has my favorite horse of all-time in Afleet Alex in his bloodline, so out of respect I'm going to include him in exotics.  If you haven't seen Afleet Alex's run in the 2005 Preakness where he nearly falls down yet comes back to win, check it out - forward to 1:30 mark if you want.  Remarkable. 

7. Midnight Interlude: 15-1
I hated this horse coming into the Derby and his predictably awful 16th place showing gives me no reason to think of him any differently here.  Might he perform differently in a smaller field and out of the 7 post?  Sure.  Am I going to put my money on that happening? Verdict: Hell to the Nizzo.     

8. Dance City: 12-1
I'm somewhat intrigued by this horse that ran a 95 speed figure to capture 3rd in that aforementioned impressive Arkansas Derby.  The speed seems to be there and he has been improving in each race leading up to the Preakness, but what worries me here is that he has a tendency to zoom out to the front and then try to hold off all comers, and if the pace set by Flashpoint is hot, Dance might fade down the stretch.  Could be poised for big race. Verdict: Not enough value at 12-1, but might be worth a look at 15-1 or higher, which is where he might become post time.  Include in aggressive exotics.

9. Mucho Macho Man: 6-1
Not much to dislike about this guy, who always seems to hit the board and has the speed to win this race, registering better than 93 numbers in 4 of his last 5 races.  Came on strong down the stretch in the Derby and coming out of the 9 post won't have much difficulty getting a good trip.  I think MMM hitting the board is just about the surest thing in this race.  Verdict: Contender.

10. Dialed In: 9-2
My fear heading into the Derby was that Dialed In didn't have the speed to win that race, and even though his stretch drive was extremely impressive (went from 15th to 8th), it simply wasn't enough to come close to the leaders who were way out in front of him by the time he made his move.  There isn't any doubt that Dialed In is a great closer, but I'm still not sold on his ability to run down leaders who might be naturally faster, especially in a race that is shorter than the Derby.  His history prevents me from outright tossing, but I wish he would have been saved for the Belmont because I think he can win that thing.  Here I suspect he won't be as far behind entering the top of the stretch so we'll see what he's made of.  Hate that he finished 8th in Derby at 5-1 odds but in Preakness he's more expensive at 9-2.  Verdict: Include and could win the whole thing if pace is hot early.

11. Animal Kingdom: 2-1
Hooray!  Hooray for Animal Kingdom!  The Animal has won his last two races and has now won 3 of his 5 career starts with two 2nd place finishes mixed in.  Coming off that booming stretch drive in the Derby there's simply no way you can't include him in any wager, and that's a problem because if he wins you're not going to win a damn thing.  The 11 post won't be an issue at all, as he'll be facing the same number of horses to his right as he did in the Derby and should settle in nicely.  One downside is that I think it was an odd decision to have him train at a different track near Pimlico all week and be shipped to Pimlico the morning of the race, especially since he ran so well on Churchill's dirt track in the days leading up to the Derby.  But what the hell do I know?  His trainers know what works for him and Animal Kingdom could be a dirt monster.  Verdict: Contender. Must include.

12. Isn't He Perfect: 30-1
I don't see any reason at all why this horse should merit any sort of consideration in the Preakness.  That being said, with Edgar Prado aboard Isn't He Perfect will absolutely win the Preakness.  His trainer's name is Doodnauth Shivmangal.  Verdict: TOSS.

13. Concealed Identity: 30-1
Hmmm...is that value I sniff at 30-1?  Why yes!  Yes it is!  Concealed Identity is not only the son of Smarty Jones, but also he's won he's last two races, both coming at Pimlico.  Sprinkle in the fact that he kind of sounds like an old Cinemax movie starring Shannon Tweed I would have seen back in the day (and by ‘back in the day' I mean LAST NIGHT), there's enough here to at least take a gamble on.  Verdict: The speed isn't there to warrant realistic expectation of hitting the board, but in this race at 30-1 with two wins in the bank on the same track, he's a longshot I'd be willing to include. 

14. Mr. Commons: 20-1
Tricky horse that has run some decent speed figures but doesn't appear to like the distance.  Won his two races at 6 furlongs and then a mile, and then when asked to run at 1 and 1/8th in that dreadful Santa Anita Derby, he wasn't able to offer much down the stretch.  Verdict: TOSS

OK, so let's see where we are.  After the initial rundown we still have the following horses left:

King Congie: 20-1
Shackleford: 12-1
Sway Away: 15-1
Dance City: 12-1
Mucho Macho Man: 6-1
Dialed In: 9-2
Animal Kingdom: 2-1
Concealed Identity: 30-1

Well, that's just great.  Eight horses left!  The three friggin' favorites, 2 horses at 12-1, one at 15-1 and two longshots.  The problem is that of the three faves, I want and think Animal Kingdom can win, I think Mucho Macho Man can win, and I kinda sorta think that Dialed In will be more of a factor in this race which means I can't toss any of them.  And that sucks balls, and is the exact reason why I am likely staying the fuck away from this race. 

Again, that Preakness payout chart above demonstrates in SCIENTIFIC FACT that the good horses usually hit the board, which means there's no money to be made.  Take a look at the chart again, even the damn superfectas rarely pay that much.  But you're not reading this to hear a bunch of excuses why not to wager, and if you really NEED the action (which I respect), here's what I think could happen that could possibly might maybe perhaps result in this race being a decent payout, a scenario that I will deem "The Rapture" (Note: the actual Rapture is set for just before post time, so it's VERY POSSIBLE this race never happens and we all die, though it is also possible that all of these Rapture believers may have money on this race and are trying to scare people away from the betting windows.)  

The Rapture:
Unlike the Derby, this race has better speed horses that will likely bring out faster early fractions.  Flashpoint, Dance City and Shackleford will get out to the front, and it's possible that the early speed will cause the field to run at a pace that they are not comfortable with.  The closers like Dialed In and Sway Away will again fade to the back, and will have to make a decision whether to fall way behind early or push it just a bit to keep within striking distance at the top of the stretch.  At faster fractions throughout, the question then becomes whether a horse like Animal Kingdom will have enough left in the tank at the top of the stretch for yet another punishing stretch drive.  I think he has it in him, but if he doesn't, this race opens up to those closers, and it's quite possible even a lesser class horse like Concealed Identity putzes his way around the track like Takashi in Revenge of the Nerds and hits the board when everyone else is gassed or throws up.  If this scenario unfolds, I'll go ahead and toss Shackleford from the mix since I think he'll again get passed in the final furlongs in a faster race, and I don't think Dance City will be able to handle the pace for the full distance either.  Now we're down to six horses, which is where I want to be for my standard $1 6 horse trifecta box wager ($120). 

3. King Congie: 20-1
6. Sway Away: 15-1
9. Mucho Macho Man: 6-1
10. Dialed In: 9-2
11. Animal Kingdom: 2-1
13. Concealed Identity: 30-1

UPDATE: 1:45PM EASTERN TIME AND DANCE CITY IS GROWING ON ME LIKE A FUNGUS.  WILL NOW USE IN EXOTICS. BEFORE RAPTURE KILLS US ALL.

Now, I think it's more likely that The Rapture occurs and the world ends than none of the favorites hits the board in the Preakness, so for a final time I urge extreme caution wagering on this leg of the Crown.  If you want to take a risk and toss some money around, by all means be my guest, and I think a combination of the 6 above could be casual.  I think the safest bet in the field is probably Mucho Macho Man to at least ‘show', so if you want to show off to your friends that you know what you're doing go ahead and place that wager.  But that's not going to pay for your monthly subscriptions for smut.  For this race I'm likely to kick back on my couch with a nice casual Black Eyed Susan and root for Animal Kingdom to win, after which time I will bet EVERYTHING I OWN ON EARTH against him in the Belmont.

That is of course, if we are all still around to see it.    

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