Cindy's Horse Racing Website Index

Analyzing the Preakness Contenders

Date: 05/10/2004


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. 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 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 2004 by Jim Mazur.

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.

The Cliff's Edge
The Cliff's Edge - The Derby 5th place finisher scored the most points in our analysis for that race, but threw both front shoes at Churchill Downs and didn't run as expected. Once again he ranks highest but can he keep his shoes on and win this time? He likes to rally from off the pace and has the versatility to stay within 10 lengths of the lead after the half, both positive angles for the Preakness. His 4 starts at three and 5 at two are both acceptable, along with his stakes win at two and graded win at three. His 111 Beyer when he won the Blue Grass Stakes satisfies the Preakness par of 106. Finally, he has a recorded workout between the Derby and Preakness, a very positive angle. In fact he is the only horse that scored points on every angle we used. Be warned, he has a bad foot and was limping on Thursday so I wouldn't bet much on him if he doesn't scratch.

Smarty Jones - The Kentucky Derby winner will undoubtedly go off as the favorite again at Pimlico. This is a strong angle given than the favorite in the Preakness wins almost 40% of the time, higher than the overall average of about 30% for all other races, and they finish in the top 3 over 80% of the time. His stalking style should suit him well, especially if once again the track comes up wet. He has five starts as a three-year-old, which is within the ideal range for Preakness winners, but he only has 2 starts as a juvenile. Only 2000 winner Red Bullet raced less than 3 times in his juvenile season. Finally, the Beyer par for the Preakness is 106; Smarty Jones' 107 in the Derby satisfies this requirement. With all these angles on his side, Smarty Jones looks primed to go on to Belmont Park with a Triple Crown on the line. His two knocks include lacking a stakes win at two and his trainer's insistence not to give him a timed workout before the Preakness, instead merely galloping him at Philadelphia.

Imperialism - He closed from 17th early to finish third at Churchill and he is our third choice by this analysis. He has the preferred rallying style but most importantly, is never more than 10 lengths back after half a mile. He has enough starts at three including a graded stakes (the San Vicente), and has had a workout during the 2 week layoff, but he was overraced at two (which doesn't seen to have bothered him), has not run to the Beyer par, and did not win a stakes at two despite his eleven starts.

Borrego - He finished a disappointing 10th in the Derby as a 14-1 longshot, but just being in the Derby makes him a Preakness contender. His rallying style is the preferred one for the Preakness, and looking at his past races, with the exception of the Louisiana Derby he was never more than 10 lengths back after half a mile, which is where a closer has to be positioned to win this event. He has run 4 times at three and 4 times at two, both within the accepted range, and has had a workout during the layoff. Unfortunately, he has yet to run to the Preakness par of 106, his top Beyer having been his 105 in the Arkansas Derby when beaten by Smarty Jones, and has no graded wins at three nor a stakes win at two.

Lion Heart
Lion Heart - The Derby runner-up will again set the pace as he has done in all but his maiden start. Unfortunately, despite popular "wisdom" as explained above, only 17% of Preakness winners go wire to wire, the last one being War Emblem in 2002 but you have to go back to 1996 and Louis Quatorze for the next to last one. His three 3-year-old starts and three juvenile starts are both within the optimal range, plus he has the required stakes win at two. He does satisfy the Beyer par, having run a 110 in the Blue Grass, but he regressed to a 103 in the Derby. Along with his running style, he also lacks a graded stakes win at three and has not worked since before the Derby.

Water Cannon - He is the local hope, coming off his win in the Federico Tesio, but not coming out of the Derby is a huge negative angle. He also has yet to run better than an 88 Beyer, well below the par of 106, and lacks stakes wins at 2 and graded wins at 3. To his advantage, he likes to stalk the pace rather than go to the front, has enough starts at two and three, and has had a workout between his last start and the Preakness. It is worth noting that the local horses don't often win the Preakness but they do finish in the money, often at long odds, like Magic Weisner's second place finish in 2002.

Little Matth Man - He has not raced since finishing seventh in the Wood. Like Water Cannon, this is a negative since he was not in the Derby. He was overraced at two (eight starts; the limit is seven), has not run better than an 89 Beyer, and lacks a stakes win at two and a graded win at three. Although he likes to rally from off the pace, which is a positive angle, he likes to drop back more than 10 lengths off the pace, a negative angle. He does have enough starts at three and a workout before the race, but there are too many negatives to give him serious consideration on Saturday.

Sir Shackleton - The Derby Trial winner is the second most underraced entrant, with just four career starts all this year, and did not race for the Roses, a negative. He likes to stalk the pace and has enough starts at three with the aforementioned graded win, and has had a workout, but his inexperience means he does not have enough starts at two nor a stakes win that year, and his best Beyer was a 97 in a 7 furlong allowance race at Keeneland. He simply is not ready to step up into Grade 1 Triple Crown company.

Rock Hard Ten
Rock Hard Ten - The most underraced horse in the field has just three starts in his career, his last one being a close second in the Santa Anita Derby where he was disqualified to third. Like Sir Shackleton, he does have enough starts at three (barely) and no starts at two. Unlike Sir Shackleton, he lacks a graded stakes win at three. On the positive side, he does like to stalk the pace, in a race that prefers horses that don't want the front, and has had a workout during the week before the Preakness. His best Beyer is a 103 at Santa Anita, still too slow for this event.

Eddington - He also did not make the Derby field, a huge knock this week, and did not have enough starts at two, nor a stakes win at two. His best Beyer is a 101 in an allowance race at Gulfstream, too slow for Triple Crown competition. The only positives we could find are in his stalking style, his starts at three, and his workout this week.

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