Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just "Show-vive," Baby! Preakness Bettors Look for Money in the Wake of Big Brown's Expected First-Place Finish

By Steve Brady

[LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Behindatthebar was scratched on Friday from Saturday's 133d Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course because of a bruise in his left front foot. Behindatthebar trained early Friday morning at Belmont Park, but trainer Todd Pletcher said he was not satisfied with the way his horse galloped. The foot bruise was subsequently detected. Behindatthebar will now be pointed for a possible run in the June 7 Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.]

Big Brown stared history down in the Kentucky Derby—and history blinked. He looked like the best horse going into the race, and he paid off at odds of 2-1. He was the first horse since the filly Regret in 1915 to win the Derby off just three prep races, and only the second horse ever to win from post position #20. (The gelding Clyde Van Dusen accomplished that latter feat in 1929.)

It’s one thing to beat a field of the top thoroughbreds in the country; it’s another to beat history. Big Brown did both, and he’s now a strong contender to win the Triple Crown, if only because he scared off almost all of his previous competition. Only one of Big Brown's Derby competitors will challenge him in Baltimore. Add to that the fact that there is almost no other early pace in this race, and the Preakness looks like a cakewalk for BB (post position #7).

BB's only competition on the front end is Tres Borrachos (#2), pictured left, but he’ll burn out by the top of the stretch and look like tres borrachos ("three drunks") by the time he gets to the wire. No, there’s really no getting around Big Brown as the probable winner of this race.

But horse racing is a betting man’s game, and even with his superior talent, Big Brown won’t be worth much as a wager. His odds’ll be so low, you’d get a better rate of return in a money market savings account. Even an exacta with BB on top won’t pay much unless you can narrow the place horse down to just one or two.

Also, there are no guarantees in racing. Things can happen—even to the most talented horses. Things happened to Barbaro two years ago in the Preakness, and something happened to Eight Belles at the recent Derby. Considering the risks, it’s tough to take odds of less than 1-1 in a Triple Crown race, and Big Brown should go off at less than 3-5. (He should win—but at less than even money??)

On the other hand, if you had picked Denis of Cork to show on Derby Day, you would have done all right—better than the win bet on BB, and that was for coming in third. And if BB hadn’t come in, the show payout would have been through the roof.

So, the gambler's question this time isn’t "Who will win?" It’s "Who will come in second and who will show?"

Riley Tucker (#10), Giant Moon (#11) and Kentucky Bear (#8) will try to stay close to BB in the opening quarters, but probably won’t have much left in the tank to hang in there to the wire. Of those three, I think Riley Tucker will stick around the longest. Icabad Crane (#3) has experience over this Pimlico track, but won’t get any pace to run at this time, and may get caught in traffic.

I tend to like late runners, so I’m picking Behindatthebar (#5), pictured left, with underrated jockey David Flores aboard, to finish strongly. I also think Alex Solis will know when to move Yankee Bravo (#4), pictured right, and give him a chance to finish in the money.

The race's late entry, Gayego (#12), is the lone holdover also-ran from the Derby, having finished a disappointing 17th. Gayego got jostled around at the start at Churchill Downs and never got into the race, yet trainer Paulo Lobo says his horse emerged no worse for wear. He might be a wild-card choice, worth considering for an exotics play.

So, here we go again:

The Picks
1. Big Brown
2. Behindatthebar
3. Yankee Bravo
4. Riley Tucker

For a rundown of the complete Preakness field, visit Video of the contenders' past performances can be viewed at the Daily Racing Form site.

Steve Brady is Sports Media America's resident horse-racing handicapper. He lives and works in Los Angeles and maintains a regular presence on the Southern California track scene. Steve also performs and teaches with the improvisational comedy ensemble Cold Tofu.

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