American Pharoah will be a heavy favorite in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, and deservedly so. He wore down some nice horses at Churchill Downs and will face the best of those again, specifically Dortmund and Firing Line. All three ran their races in Kentucky. If they do it again, American Pharoah should be on his way to Belmont with a chance to be the latest horse to come up short in the Triple Crown.
If you get a chance, hit one of your local race tracks — Sam Houston Race Park, Gulf Greyhound Park or Delta Downs — and enjoy the show. It could set up an awesome Belmont in three weeks. (We will be hosting a free handicapping tournament at Sam Houston that starts at 2 p.m.)
As far as today’s race goes, it will be hard to get around him. Perhaps Firing Line switches leads this time and runs a better race. Perhaps American Pharoah ran too hard in Kentucky and bounces. Perhaps the dreaded rail draw gets him boxed in early.
If you bet against him, you are banking on one or all of those three things.
And there are reasons to do that. Making money, for one. But the reality is on point 1: AP ran 29 feet farther in the Derby than Firing Line due to his wide post. Any extra ground from switching leads will be neutralized by that.
2: If anything, AP might be better this week. He has looked fantastic in the mornings, appears none the worse for wear and should benefit from being tested for the first time in his career.
3: The rail is not a big deal in an eight horse field, and Dortmund — the speed to his outside — is also trained by Bob Baffert. No way Baffert instructs his two jockeys to gun at each other out of the gate. And Victor Espinoza on AP is one of the best in the business when it comes to big race riding.
So we will not be taking a stand against the favorite here. In reality, this is probably a sit back and enjoy the race day. But since part of the thrill of racing is betting, we will have a few small plays.
We will start with AP on top in the trifectas. You can’t really throw out Dortmund and Firing Line with any confidence. The reality is they probably run 1-2-3 again. But if you can get one of them out of the equation, the trifecta may have some value. Two (unlikely) and you will be happy.
A quick look at the field:
1) American Pharoah. In incredible form, he just coasts over the track. The Derby was the first time he was tested and he responded. Rail should not bother him (he won from there at 7 furlongs in his second start, which is much tougher than a longer distance), a wet track would not bother him (he coasted in the slop at Oaklawn). Should go 2-for-2 in the Triple Crown at a short price.
2) Dortmund. Got away with reasonable fractions on the front end in Kentucky but could not hold off Firing Line and AP. Should get a little more pace pressure today, but he can handle it. Don’t know if he can turn the tables on his stablemate, but he has every right to run another big one.
3) Mr. Z. Last two races have been tough, but he was regarded right there with the big boys early in his career. Should be winging it early and could make for an interesting pace battle. D. Wayne Lukas is sneaky with horses like this and he might hang around for a long time.
4) Danzig Moon. Was a solid fifth in the Derby, and his real goal is the Canadian equivalent of the Derby — The Queen’s Plate — in June. Could get a piece of this if one of the big three take a step backward.
5) Tale of Verve. Looks overmatched after a slow maiden win but it was at this distance and he might be the only legitimate closer in the race. That might be good enough for a minor award if the early pace is silly.
6) Bodhisattva is the local entrant. Should be a part of the early pace but doubtful he is anywhere to be found when the real running starts.
7) Diving Rod is a wise guy horse off a nice win at Keeneland, but this is much deeper waters and it would take some serious regression by others for him to be a factor.
8) Firing Line. Was dead game in the Derby. In fact, he’s always dead game. In six starts, he has never been worse than second. The problem is he has only won two of them, both against much lesser. He might hold the key to the race because his prior starts were well spaced out. For the first time, he wheels back off a short layoff. He could thrive on that and pull off the upset, or bounce to the moon and miss the board completely.
So how do we play it?
We will single AP in the pick threes and pick 4s. For the pick three we will use: 2 4 5 6 9 with 2 4 6 8 9 11 12 13 with 1. For a .50 version, that will cost you $20. You will obviously need a nice price in one of the first two legs to make it pay well.
Those with a bigger bankroll wanting to play the pick four can use horses 1-4-6-7-9 in the first leg of the sequence with the horses above. That will cost you $100 on a .50 minimum.
Finally, if you want to play a small .50 tri and hope one of the longshots shows up, the play is 1 with 2-4-5-8 with 2-3-4-5-7-8. That will cost you $10 on a .50 play.
If you think you can beat him, Firing Line is the real key. But I will wait for the Belmont to take a stand against him. In reality, sit back and enjoy the race. And if you have to play it, good luck.