By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") @J_Keelerman
Attempting to predict the pace of a horse race can be challenging, especially when the horses involved are lightly-raced three-year-olds with versatility in running style. But when analyzing the potential pace scenarios for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), recent history shows that the pace of the Derby has been a reliable indicator of how fast the Preakness pace will be.
Basically, since 2009, the pace of the Preakness has been exactly the opposite of the pace in the Derby. In every year that the Derby pace was fast, the Preakness pace was slow; whenever the Derby pace was slow, the Preakness pace was fast. The year-by-year statistics are as follows:
- In 2009, the Derby pace was fairly slow, with a half-mile in :47.23 and six furlongs in 1:12.09. The pace in the Preakness was noticeably faster, with a half-mile in :46.71 and six furlongs in 1:11.01.
- In 2010, the Derby pace was fast, with a half-mile in :46.16 and six furlongs in 1:10.58. The Preakness pace was also quick, but not as fast as in the Derby—a half-mile in :46.47 and six furlongs in 1:11.22.
- In 2011, the Derby pace was very, very slow—a half-mile in :48.63 and six furlongs in 1:13.40. In contrast, the Preakness pace was quite a bit quicker, with a half-mile in :46.87 and six furlongs in 1:12.01.
- In 2012, the Derby pace was among the quickest in history, as the half-mile was timed in :45.39 and six furlongs went in 1:09.80. The pace was much more controlled in the Preakness, with a half-mile in :47.68 and six furlongs in 1:11.72.
- In 2013, the Derby pace was even faster than in 2012—a half-mile in :45.33 and six furlongs in 1:09.80. In contrast, the Preakness pace was extremely slow, with a half-mile in :48.60 and six furlongs in 1:13.26.
- In 2014, the Derby pace was modest, with a half-mile in :47.37 and six furlongs in 1:11.80. The pace in the Preakness was substantially quicker—a half-mile in :46.85 and six furlongs in 1:11.06.
Keeping this in mind, the slow pace of this year’s Kentucky Derby—a half-mile in :47.34 and six furlongs in 1:11.29—suggests that the pace of the Preakness will be quicker. Additionally, the horses targeting the race seem likely to ensure a quick pace. Derby 1-2-3 finishers American Pharoah, Firing Line, and Dortmund have all shown early speed in their recent races, and the three of them alone could set a fast pace if Firing Line and/or Dortmund get more aggressive than in the Derby. But they’re not the only speedy colts targeting the Preakness—Bodhisattva won the Federico Stakes last time out in front-running fashion, and Lexington Stakes (gr. III) winner Divining Rod flashed plenty of speed when setting the pace in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). Still another potentially speedy contender is Materiality, who tracked the early pace en route to victories in the Islamorada Handicap and Florida Derby (gr. I) before a slow start left him far off the pace in the Kentucky Derby. Assuming he runs in the Preakness—he’s not certain to be entered—a better start could find him right up on the pace as well.
This isn’t to say that the Preakness pace will be blazingly fast and result in a victory by a deep-closer—the speed horses targeting this year’s Preakness are very talented and also pretty versatile, and chances are the pace won’t be much quicker than about :46 3/5 and 1:10 4/5. But I also wouldn’t expect the pace to be much slower than that, and this could play into the strengths of American Pharoah, who should be able to work out a great trip sitting a length or two off the lead before pouncing on the final turn. With a quicker pace to help soften up Firing Line and Dortmund, I believe the potential pace scenario of the Preakness will enable American Pharoah to score a more dominant victory than he achieved in the Derby.