Strategy Could Play a Big Part in the Preakness

Slop or no slop, the Preakness Stakes looks pretty cut-and-dried on paper, or perhaps it should be cut-and-wet. The likely sloppy track will be nothing new to Justify and Good Magic, the two standout horses who dominate the morning line odds, with Justify being made an overwhelming 1-2 favorite.

The three keys to the running of the race is where Quip, Justify, and Good Magic will be placed early. I'm sure Mike Smith would love nothing more than to put Justify on the lead and just let him run everyone off their feet. But with WinStar's other entrant, Quip, breaking from the rail, he likely will have to try for the lead, if, of course, he can outrun Justify.

By drawing post 7, Smith has the luxury of establishing position early, most likely right off the flank of Quip. But what makes this field of eight so interesting is that there is only one true closer in the field, and that is Lone Sailor. So with only Lone Sailor to worry about in the final furlong, Smith can just give Justify his head and let him use his pure speed to run all the others into the ground. No one has yet figured out a way to match Justify's high cruising speed, and that is where jockey Jose Ortiz, on Good Magic, plays a major role.

Good Magic is extremely talented in his own right, and if he is right in the thick of the battle with Justify, Quip, Bravazo, Sporting Chance, Diamond King, and Tenfold, he could easily pick up second once again. But Good Magic has shown he is versatile enough to be placed anywhere. So another possible tactic would be to let all the others try to keep up with Justify and take Good Magic back to seventh, some five to seven lengths off the lead, depending on the pace, and hope all the others can keep Justify occupied long enough to possibly soften him up a little in the stretch. Does he really want to be within two lengths of Justify, as he was in the Derby, and then hope to have enough left to catch him? Of course, if Justify gets separation as he did in the Derby, no one is going to catch him. That's the chance Ortiz would have to take if he wants to come up with a different way to beat Justify and avoid a repeat of the Derby.

His main hope is that Quip, another very good horse, can hang around long enough, as well as some of the others, and not let Justify cruise to the lead on the far turn again. One horse who could hang around longer than people think is the lightly raced Tenfold, who ran a sneaky good race in the Arkansas Derby, making a threatening move and hanging tough in the stretch in only his third career start. I don't know if he's ready for this big a test with only three starts, but this is a very talented horse.

An odd statistic of the Preakness is that since 1961, only three Kentucky Derby runners-up have come back to win the Preakness - Summer Squall in 1990, Prairie Bayou in 1993, and Exaggerator in 2016, the last named an exceptional mudder, winning on a sloppy track. However, during that same time, seven horses who finished third in the Derby have come back to win the Preakness. That statistic likely means very little, but it just might suggest that for a Derby runner-up to turn the tables on the winner he has to utilize a different strategy.

Summer Squall, who had the lead at the quarter pole in the Derby only to have Unbridled blow right on by him, waited longer to make his move in the Preakness and was three lengths back nearing the top of the stretch. As a result, he had enough left to outclose Unbridled and win going away, while Unbridled finished nine lengths ahead of the third horse.

In the 2016 Derby, Exaggerator came from some 18 lengths back to finish a fast-closing second to Nyquist. In the Preakness, he came from 6 1/2 lengths back at the same point and ran right on by Nyquist to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

Even going back to 1960, Bally Ache went to the lead in the Derby and set brisk fractions of :46 4/5 and 1:11 only to be caught by Venetian Way. In the Preakness, Bobby Ussery slowed the pace down, going in :48 4/5 and 1:13 2/5, and this time won going away by four lengths.

Only Prairie Bayou used the same tactics in the Derby and Preakness. 

So, in three of the four instances in the past 58 years when a Derby runner-up won the Preakness, a different strategy was used.

Will Chad Brown and Jose Ortiz use a different strategy this time to try to turn the tables on Justify? We will have to wait and see. But they do have the horse versatile enough to do it. Yes, you're taking a chance on letting Justify get loose, but it is starting to look more and more that you're going to need help to beat him, and you have five horses who could be chasing him, including one who you know is fast and gutsy and likes stalking other horses. He just happens to be owned by the same people who own Justify, which offers some juicy scenarios.

That brings us to another horse who looks to be sitting on a big race at 30-1 morning line odds, and that is the enigmatic Sporting Chance, a horse with a ton of ability, but with a tendency to self destruct at times. Other times, he has had bad trips, including his last start in the Pat Day Mile, in which he was forced to steady on the backstretch, costing himself several lengths, and then had to fan eight-wide at the top of the stretch. He ran well enough after that to finish fourth. In the two races in which he ducked badly from the whip, cutting across half the track, he still managed to win the Hopeful Stakes and was third, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths by Good Magic in the Blue Grass Stakes. His sire, Tiznow, had his quirks on the track and his offspring in general take a while to mature. I can see taking him back a little, maybe in sixth, but within striking range of the leaders.

So if you feel Justify and Good Magic stand alone ahead of the rest of them and you're looking for a longshot to put in the exotics, Sporting Chance could give you a run for your money. And Quip could complete a four-horse trifecta box, but you'll have to sneak him or Sporting Chance into the top two if you want a good price.

Of course, we don't know how the apparent sloppy the track will be playing and how it will affect the race. I believe Lone Sailor is going to get played fairly heavily in the exotics based off his 11-length maiden score in the slop and his eventful trip in the Derby. And, as mentioned, he is the only closer in the field. And his broodmare sire Mr. Greeley loved the slop, as he showed in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and is a slop influence as a sire.

Looking at the Thoro-Graph numbers, Bravazo made a tremendous leap from the Louisiana Derby to the Kentucky Derby, and even several points from his Risen Star victory. His number in the Derby was surprisingly fast. He could regress off that big a leap coming back in two weeks, but if he doesn't it puts him right in the money. So if you find Lukas sneaky in spots like this, you can put both his horses -- Bravazo and Sporting Chance -- in the trifecta box instead with Justify and Good Magic. That has endless possibilities, especially if you're bold enough to go superfecta. 

But, wagering aside, the main thought on everyone's mind is whether Bob Baffert will be going for another Triple Crown. And right now most people believe that is a foregone conclusion. If that is the case, it will be a fun three weeks to the Belmont Stakes with the chance of another undefeated Triple Crown winner. But let's get past the Preakness first. There are some intriguing scenarios to be played out.

Recent Posts


More Blogs