As usual, the grueling trip around Churchill Downs has weeded out many of the pretenders, leaving a more compact and contentious field for the Preakness at Pimlico on May 20. We will attempt to handicap the probable Preakness field using angles that have pointed at the winner in past years. It is well known that to win the Preakness, you have to have raced in the Derby. If the Kentucky Derby is not in the horse's past performances he is an immediate toss for the win. He may finish second like locally-based longshot Magic Weisner in 2002, but rarely wins. Although Pimlico is always called a speed-favoring oval, about half of Preakness winners came from off the pace, while 1/3 of winners stalk. Horses more than 10 lengths off the pace after half a mile generally don't win the Black Eyed Susans and closers need to be in contention at the top of the stretch.
For more information on the trends and statistics used in this analysis, check out the book Triple Crown Handicapper 2006 by Jim Mazur and Impact Values Lead to Derby, Preakness & Belmont Winners & Longshots by Stanley Caris.
We also recommend checking workout patterns in the final week since these are a good indicator of who is ready. Preferably you're looking for horses that came out of the Derby and only had one (no more, no less) workout between starts, preferably at Pimlico. Not having a work between the Derby and the Preakness is usually a negative, although the last two winners, Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones, did not work but galloped often instead.
In this year's analysis, no horse scored on every angle, so, strictly speaking, every horse has a chance to lose, unlike last year where Afleet Alex swept all the factors and went on to take home the prize.
The first three horses scored equal points and are the top choices in the analysis:
Barbaro is the runaway winner of the Kentucky Derby which should immediately make him the favorite at Pimlico. The undefeated colt has enough starts at 3 including stakes wins, is coming off a layoff of less than 30 days, had a sharp prep race, and has made the Beyer par of 106 with his 111 Derby. However, he did not have enough starts at 2, has points on the Professional wing of his Dosage profile, and his running style is front-running. Although he stalked in the Derby he was a front-running horse in every other start in his career.
Brother Derek was the highly regarded California horse in the Derby who disappointed, finishing in a dead heat for fourth beaten 9 1/2 lengths. He does have enough starts at 2 and 3, stakes wins at 3, a short-enough layoff, and the Beyer par. On the negative side, he did not have a sharp last race, he has Professional points in his Dosage, and his front-running style is not preferred. Pimlico may have a reputation for speed but the statistics show that stalkers and ralliers actually are preferred in the Preakness race itself.
Sweetnorthernsaint was the runaway winner of the Illinois Derby but finished 7th in the Kentucky Derby beaten 13 lengths. Despite losing, the Derby start means he is coming from the right prep race with the correct layoff. He can stalk the pace which is a preferred style here, and does have enough starts at 3 including the requisite stakes win. As well, his 109 Beyer at Hawthorne earns him maximum points in the speed department. His drawbacks are few: he does not have enough starts at 2, his last race was not sharp, and he has points on the Professional wing of his Dosage profile.
The following two horses scored equal points, and so are tied for fourth:
Bernardini did not race in the Derby, but comes into the Preakness off a win in the Withers (G3) at Belmont Park on April 29. With that in mind, he did have a sharp prep and the correct layoff. As well, he has enough races at 3 including the stakes win, and was just short of the Beyer par with his 104 last out. Finally, he is the only horse in the field without points on the Professional wing. Despite the distance being just 1/16 less than the Derby, Professional points are actually not preferred in the Preakness. He generally races up front which is a negative, and he had no starts at 2.
Like Now also skipped the Derby, joining the Triple Crown wars off his second place finish in the Lexington (G2). Missing the Derby is a huge negative, as well as his Professional points and his front-running style. However, he did come into the race off a sharp prep, has enough races at 2 and 3, a stakes win at 3 (the Gotham), a short-enough layoff, and scored points for the 105 Beyer in the Gotham.