Whether you recognize the Preakness Stakes as the second leg of the Triple Crown or the event that has produced multiple videos of people running on top of port-a-let’s, it’s that time of year again! Just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness is run at a distance of 1 3/16th mile. Unfortunately this years contest will run without the Kentucky Derby winner, Rich Strike. This field, consisting of nine horses, isn’t the most competitive to ever run here. Many of the main contenders from the Kentucky Derby have decided to skip this race in favor of the Belmont Stakes or opt out of the rest of the Triple Crown series altogether. Like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness hosts a Friday card for the fillies, the Black Eyed Susan Stakes. In this space, we will discuss some of those races as well as the Preakness Stakes undercard. Let’s take a look at the field, and I will tell you how I would bet the card on a $100 bankroll. I’ve listed the horse by: Post Position, Name, Odds, Record (Career Races: Wins – Seconds – Thirds)
THE HEAVY FAVORITE
#8 Epicenter (6-5) 7: 4-2-0
The runner-up from the Kentucky Derby comes into this spot as the deserving and heavy morning line favorite. IF the Derby had been run at 1 3/16th instead of 1 1/4th then we are probably talking about Epicenter being the Kentucky Derby champ. Breaking from the postposition of #8 should allow jockey Joel Rosario plenty of options to position himself perfectly early in the race. In Epicenter’s two losses he has been able to gain the lead in the stretch, only to get nailed right before the wire. With a smaller field, I don’t expect the early pace to be historically quick like it was in the Derby, which is disadvantageous to the closers. There will be a lot made of Epicenter running back this week off of two weeks rest, but that doesn’t bother me, and there are a couple reasons why. First, six of the nine horses in this race are coming off of two weeks rest. Secondly, when horses run back quickly, it is not usually that race where they come up empty, it is the following race. Also, Asmussen isn’t the type of trainer to force a horse back quickly if he doesn’t think he has a chance. A few years ago they skipped the Preakness and Belmont with Gun Runner, after finishing 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Gun Runner went on to become the top horse in America during his 4 and 5 year old seasons. Asmussen and Winchell Thoroughbreds finished second in this race last year with Midnight Bourbon, who was coming off of a 6th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The one cause for concern would be if the Derby took too much out of him. Based on pictures, videos and the fact that they’re running him here, I have no reason to believe that it did.
THE SECOND TIER
#2 Creative Minister (10-1) 3: 2-1-0
Admittedly, I don’t think we are going to see Creative Minister go off at 10-1 on Saturday. This horse comes into the race off a two-week layoff as well, as he won an allowance race on the undercard of the Kentucky Derby last out. With two wins from only three starts to his name, Creative Minister has gotten better with every start and improved speed figures as well. In terms of trip, I would expect this horse to sit about three to four lengths off of the pace and try to make a run when they turn for home. If the horse takes another step forward and improves here, then he has a chance to upset Epicenter. A swift early pace would most likely benefit Creative Minister as well. This field will be a slight step up from what he has faced so far, but on paper Creative Minister fits right in. For what it is worth, the connections of this horse had to pay $150,000 to supplement this entry into a Triple Crown race. You don’t make that move unless you think your horse has a real big chance. Trainer Kenny McPeek won this race back in 2020 with Swiss Skydiver.
#5 Early Voting (7-2) 3: 2-1-0
Early Voting could have ran in the Derby, if they so chose to, but opted to run here in the Preakness instead. At the very least, this horse has early speed and will factor into the early pace. With only three career starts to his name, this horse is just a neck away from being undefeated. Trainer Chad Brown won this race in 2017 with Cloud Computing, using similar tactics. When Chad Brown aims a horse for a race, that horse usually runs well in that spot. I do have some reservations regarding Early Voting though. For one, I do not expect him to get an easy lead in here. He was nailed at 1 1/8th mile last out by Mo Donegal and now he has to go 1/16th of a mile further. Third, I was not impressed at all by the New York circuit this year leading up to the Derby. This horse is going to take action based on the trainer’s previous success in this spot. He is one of only three horses who did not run a race two weeks ago. As long as he doesn’t wilt in the stretch if/when he gets passed by Epicenter, I expect him to finish in the superfecta at least.
#4 Secret Oath (9-2) 8: 5-0-2
The lone filly in this race, which means female horse for those not familiar with the sex of horses, will surely be the sentimental favorite. One of the more experienced horses in the field, she has five wins and two third place finishes in eight career starts. Secret Oath took on the boys back in April in the Arkansas Derby and she didn’t embarrass herself. She finished third behind Cyberknife and Barber Road, who went on to run in the Derby. Secret Oath suffered from a suspect trip that day in the Arkansas Derby and a jockey change occurred shortly after, moving from Luis Contreras to Luis Saez. For those who don’t follow the sport on the daily basis, it is comparable to the Denver Broncos replacing Drew Lock with Russell Wilson. Secret Oath then won the Kentucky Oaks next out in an impressive fashion. I expect her to sit about three lengths off of the lead, maybe further, and try to make a big move when they get to the last turn. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won more Triple Crown races than any other trainer in history. He solidified himself by winning the Kentucky Derby with filly Winning Colors back in 1988. The 86-year-old trainer has a chance with this filly to make history one more time.
#1 Simplification (6-1) 8: 3-1-2
Hard to knock a horse who always shows up and runs well. He has never finished worse than 5th in eight career races. He was a beneficiary of a hot pace in the Kentucky Derby last out when he was able to close to finish 4th. The interesting thing about this horse is that he has shown versatility with his running styles. Simplification has won races both on the lead and closing from multiple lengths off of it. If I had to guess, I would expect him to be a few lengths off of the lead early in this race. His speed figures fit right in with the other contenders here and he is probably the horse I am second most confident in saying that he will run a good race here. I do not view him as a win contender though. Previous jockey Jose Ortiz opted to ride Early Voting in this race instead, so Johnny Velasquez will take the mount here. Trainer Antonio Sano finished 5th in this race back in 2017 with Gunnevera.
THE WILD CARD
#7 Armagnac (12-1) 5: 2-0-1
This is a horse that I do not expect to be hanging around when the race is decided at the finish line, but he will play a big role in the early stages. This horse will ship across the country from California to try his luck. So far Armagnac has produced underwhelming results in his graded stakes tries. He finished 6th, beaten by 27 lengths in the San Felipe back in March. He followed that effort up by finishing 4th, beaten by 12 lengths in the Santa Anita Derby in April. Apparently the connections were impressed enough by his win on May 8th in an allowance level race at Santa Anita to give the graded stakes level another try, but I think it would be a huge shock here if he were to pull this off. His two wins were when racing using Lasix, which he won’t have the benefit of here. The horse does possess early speed and I expect him to push Early Voting in the early stages of the race. I expect Armagnac to fade no matter what, but depending on how fast they go in the opening half, it could very well decide whether or not Early Voting hangs around to finish in the trifecta. Irad Ortiz will ride, which solidifies my conviction that he will be up front early. Tim Yakteen, who is filling in for Bob Baffert while he is on suspension, trains him.
THE ALSO RANS
#9 Skippylongstocking (20-1) 9: 2-1-2
Admittedly, this horse was the hardest for me to decide what to do with. He is one of the most experienced horses in the race, but his first seven career races weren’t anything to get overly excited about. He did finish third in his most recent race, finishing behind Mo Donegal and Early Voting. The running line for that race says “no kick” but there were really only two horses that made up ground that day. Mo Donegal and Skippylongstocking. I wouldn’t be shocked if this horse ended up finishing in third or fourth, but anything more is tough for me to imagine. Trained by the up and coming Saffie Joseph, he has yet to win a Triple Crown race.
#6 Happy Jack (30-1) 5: 1-0-2
For some reason, they keep trying this horse at this level. Happy Jack won on his debut and he has yet to be competitive since. In fact, he hasn’t finished within ten lengths of the leader in any of his subsequent races. Happy Jack was about the only closer in the Kentucky Derby that did not make up any ground, although he did pass some tiring horses. It is unlikely he will get as favorable as a setup here as he did in the Kentucky Derby. I do not expect this horse to factor into the race at all, except for maybe taking some casual money. Somehow the horse went off at 23-1 in the Kentucky Derby when he should have been the longest shot in the field. Let’s hope he gets bet again, it will create some value in the Win/Place/Show pools on horses that we like better. Doug O’Neill trains this horse; he won the Preakness in 2012 with I’ll Have Another.
#3 Fenwick (50-1) 6: 1-1-0
I was shocked to see this horse entered here. The only thing I can think of is that 5th place pays $45,000. He was able to break his maiden in a weak field back in March at Tampa Bay Downs. They subsequently entered the horse in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland where he finished last. This horse has shown some early speed, so he may play into the early pace, but I have serious reservations about him being fast enough to keep up with Early Voting or Armagnac for very long. One silver lining is that with Rich Strike scoring as the longest shot in the field two weeks ago, I would bet Fenwick takes some money and goes off at way shorter odds than he should be. This horse will not come anywhere close to being listed on my tickets. Kevin McKathan will train him. The Preakness will be McKathan’s second career start as a trainer.
THE BLACK EYED SUSAN STAKES
Before I breakdown how I plan to bet, I wanted to touch on this race first. The Black Eyed Susan is the Preakness version of the Kentucky Oaks. The race is run on Friday at 5:45 PM ET. Pimlico will offer a Black Eyed Susan-Preakness Daily Double. This wager offers us a great chance to build value around Epicenter, as I think the Black Eyed Susan is a competitive race with a deep field. The double will be a key part of my race wagers this weekend. On paper, there appears to be plenty of early speed signed on for this race. That should soften up the #10 Adare Manor who is the 5-2 favorite. The #7 Distinctlypossible is trained by Chad Brown and has a similar profile to Early Voting. I expect her to be very competitive and the mix here, from just off the pace. The #6 Luna Belle has amassed an impressive record facing horses on the local Maryland circuit, but these waters are much deeper and I am okay to fade the horse at a short price. The #5 Beguine is an intriguing horse on paper, she has improved in all four-career starts, and at the morning line number of 12-1 she has a huge chance to win here. #12 Favor comes into this race for Todd Pletcher and could take another step forward as it will be her second time going around two turns. She is 8-1 on the morning line. The longest shot that I think is reasonable is #3 Miss Yearwood who is listed at 20-1 and comes off of a win at 1 1/4th at Churchill Downs. She will be a deep closer in this field and if the pace melts down she could be flying late.
HOW I’D BET $100
$2 Tri Wheel – 8/1,2,4,5/1,2,4,5,9 = $32
$7 Black Eyed Susan-Preakness DD – 3,5,7,12/8 = $28
$40 Win Bet on #8 Epicenter
Ultimately, the presence of Epicenter in this spot looms too large to look past. The connections are openly confident, the horse looks great, and he is without a doubt the best horse in here. At even money I will plunk down a win bet, I expect the odds to be about even money, +100 for all you sports gamblers. The meat of this bet is really the double with the Black Eyed Susan and Preakness. Horse bets are based on pool play but based on the morning line we should be looking at some nice payouts if we can get a long shot on Friday and Epicenter to complete the deal on Saturday. Keying a horse you have a strong opinion on is the best way to maximize value on exotic bets. As opposed to boxing the bet, which is paying for unnecessary combinations in this space. I think Epicenter is the most likely winner, if we can get Creative Minister to come in the top 3; we could be looking at a decent payout. Feel free to follow along on Twitter at @WinWinWinners, as I will be posting plays and thoughts throughout the weekend.