The Pi-Rate Ratings

May 16, 2008

A PiRate Look At the 2008 Preakness Stakes

A PiRate Extra

Preakness Stakes 133


Pimlico Race Course-Baltimore

Approximately 6:15 PM EDT

Television: NBC (Tom Durkin Calling the Race)

Radio: Premiere Radio Networks (Dave Johnson Calling the Race)

Forecast Weather at Post-Time: Mostly Cloudy & Low 70s


Meet the new super horse.  Big Brown overcame historical odds of coming from post 20 and being too lightly raced to make the Kentucky Derby look like a contest between the Boston Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs.  Immediately following the race, he had been awarded the honor of becoming a sure thing for the Triple Crown. 


Now, let’s recount all the Triple Crown winners in the last 30 years.  Oops, there haven’t been any.  Spectacular Bid was 1-9 when he lost in the Belmont.  You couldn’t ask for a more prohibitive favorite.  Pleasant Colony pulled off two exciting victories and went off as the favorite in the Belmont and finished third.  Alysheba edged Bet Twice two times before seeing his rival dust him in New York.  Sunday Silence and Easy Goer repeated the Alysheba-Bet Twice challenge a few years later.  Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Charismatic entered their Belmonts as favorites to take the Crown and all three just missed.  Ditto War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones.


Yes, there have been numerous super horses since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978.  They won the first two legs, but missed out three weeks later.  Now, add Fusaichi Pegasus, Monarchos, Unbridled, and Swale to the list.  These four looked every bit as impressive as Big Brown when they earned their roses at Churchill Downs, and they failed to deliver in the Preakness.


Big Brown may very well be the next Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation, Count Fleet, or Whirlaway, but he could also be the next Smarty Jones or even Fu Peg.  That is what makes handicapping so much fun and intriguing.


The one sure thing in this race is that Big Brown’s odds have opened at 1-2, and I would guess by post-time, they will be even stronger (at least 2-5 and maybe 1-3 or 1-4).


Here are the current odds for the race as of Friday morning.  Since Behindthebar was scratched a half hour ago from the time of this writing, new morning line odds have yet to be issued.  Behindthebar figured to be the strongest Big Brown Rival, and now the presumptive super horse has little competition.


PP.       Horse                           Odds               Jockey                         Trainer

  1        Macho Again              20-1                 Julien Leparoux           Dallas Stewart

  2        Tres Borrachos            30-1                 Tyler Baze                   Beau Greely

  3        Icabad Crane               30-1                 Jeremy Rose                Graham Motion

  4        Yankee Bravo             15-1                 Alex Solis                    Patrick Gallagher

  5        Behindthebar              SCR               

  6        Racecar Rhapsody      30-1                 Robby Albarado         Ken McPeek

  7        Big Brown                    1-2                 Kent Desormeaux       Richard Dutrow

  8        Kentucky Bear            15-1                 Jamie Theriot               Reade Baker

  9        Stevil                           30-1                 John Velazquez           Nick Zito

10        Riley Tucker                30-1                 Edgar Prado                Bill Mott

11        Giant Moon                 30-1                 Ramon Dominguez     Richard Schosberg

12        Gayego                          8-1                 Mike Smith                 Paulo Lobo

13        Hey Byrn                    20-1                 Charles Lopez             Eddie Plesa


Breakdown of the Field


1-Macho Again

This horse won the Derby Trial three weeks ago and recorded a personal best Beyer Speed Figure of 99.  That race was 7 ½ furlongs around one turn.  Macho Again has raced 1 1/8 mile just once and finished a distant seventh in the Lane’s End.  He was bumped coming out of the gate, but that didn’t prevent him from performing so poorly in the final 2 furlongs.  What you have here is a decent sprint horse that comes from off the pace.  Look for him to make a move on the backstretch but have nothing left in the tank going into the turn.  I expect him to finish well back.


2-Tres Borrachos

Here is an improving horse.  His speed figures have improved with each race, and he has raced much faster on dirt than on polytrack.  He set the pace at the Arkansas Derby, appeared to tire from setting too fast of a pace, and then he passed another fading horse to finish third.  If Big Brown runs an average race, Tres Borrachos will not finish within five lengths of him.  If Big Brown doesn’t show up, then this rested horse will be a factor in the race.  He stands a decent chance of hitting the board.


3-Icabad Crane

This horse won at Pimlico on April 19 in the Federico Tesio over a very weak field.  He came from off the pace to win in the stretch, and he should be passing horses tomorrow.  If the pace is overly fast, it will be to his advantage, but Tesio had a slow pace, and he still passed the speed horses who tried to cheat from the front.  He should be considered in any exotics.


4-Yankee Bravo

This horse is similar to Macho Again.  He could fade in the final 1/8, and he could fade more than Macho Again.  However, he could be closer to the lead when he begins to fade.  He won the California Derby and another minor stakes race, but he has finished third and fourth in his two graded stakes races.  If you think he will hit the board, then you should be putting something on Macho Again as well.


6-Racecar Rhapsody

I make it a habit never to wager on horses running in grade 1 stakes and still eligible to be running in non-winners of one other than maiden allowance races.  This horse has one lifetime victory, and that was last October.  However, it may be time for an exception, as this horse has good enough speed to challenge for the lead tomorrow.  He may be in last place for the first ¾ mile, but he has one huge kick that could propel him by the field into second place.  Still, he’s not for me.


7-Big Brown

There is only one horse in the field that has recorded a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure.  Big Brown has done it three times in a row.  In his only other race, his first one ever, he ran a 90 BSF, but he won that one by more than 11 lengths!  How can he possibly lose this race?  Unfortunately, accidents happen, and he could stumble or throw his jockey, or veer out wide after being spooked.  Then again, his problem from feet and his jockey’s desire to give him five weeks off between starts could be more important than most people think.


I expect him to bounce this week.  He won’t be able to run the type of race we saw in the Kentucky and Florida Derbies.  On the other hand, there will be no Colonel John, Pyro, or Smooth Air in this field.  His top challenger has scratched.  I don’t expect him to lose unless he stumbles or throws his jockey.  He should be able to rate from just off the lead and then run away from the field at the mile pole.  I expect to see a slower time because Desormeaux may never have to go to the whip.  Why try to run a 1:53.4 when he can probably win at 1:55?


The problem with wagering on such a prohibitive favorite is the return is not worth the small risk.  More people at PRC may purchase a $2 ticket to win and never cash it, hoping the assessed value of the ticket one day becomes valuable.  Does anyone care to buy a set of uncashed winning tickets to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont stakes?  That $6 investment in Secretariat fetched $5,000 for one smart investor.  


As if he needs any extra benefit, Big Brown will now break from post number six, the post that has produced the most career Preakness wins.


8-Kentucky Bear

Throw out a horrible run in the Fountain of Youth, and this horse looked good in his other two career starts.  We are trying to locate the number two horse in this race, and Kentucky Bear has to be included in the argument.  In the Bluegrass, he was caught nine wide and lost a lot of ground, yet he rallied for third and was closing the entire time.  In his first time out, he exploded in the stretch and ran away from all challengers.  He should post a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90-95 range, and that just may be good enough to finish in the money.  It helps that he appears to like this track when it is fast, and the track should be fast for the race.



Kentucky Bear was nine wide in the Bluegrass, but this horse was 12 wide!  He made up 3½ lengths, so he has to be coupled with Kentucky Bear if you think Kentucky Bear has a chance in the Preakness.  The difference in my opinion is that Kentucky Bear is better suited for staying for 9½ furlongs.  Stevil is still eligible for 1X Allowance Races, so I don’t expect victory number two to come in the Preakness nor do I expect him to finish second.


10-Riley Tucker

We have yet another horse with one career win, but this one ran a 96 Beyer in the Lexington Stakes in his most recent race.  That was good enough for third.  It also represented a huge jump forward.  I expect him to regress toward the mean in this race, and that means a fifth to last place finish.


11-Giant Moon

If you are looking for a live long shot, look no further.  This horse has the credentials to shock the world if Big Brown falters, and he should hit the board.  Throw out a race where he was racing in the slop and with fog too thick for the track announcer to see in the Gotham Stakes.  He was caught tight in the rail, and his jockey Ramon Dominguez had little choice but to ride the rail through the fog.  Except for that race, you have a consistent better than average improving horse.  At 30-1, he looks quite enticing.  If those odds go south, then he becomes a great overlay.



Gayego is the only challenger from the Kentucky Derby returning for more of Big Brown.  He’s also the only other horse in the field with a triple digit Beyer figure, earning a pair of them.  He never figured in the Derby, and we did not see his potential two weeks ago.  I don’t expect him to return to form in two weeks.  If he was a long shot, I might consider wagering something on him, but he figures to go off as the second betting choice.  I won’t be using him in my picks.


13-Hey Byrn

He’s the only horse to have won at 9 ½ furlongs in this race, which means little or nothing to me.  He finished more than 15 lengths behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby, and you have to ask if he finishes 15 lengths back in the Preakness if that will be good enough to hit the board.  I don’t think so.


My Call of the Race


The horses are all in the gate, and they’re off.  Breaking sharply and taking the early lead is Giant Moon with Tres Borrachos, Big Brown, and Hey Byrn right there with him.  Gayego is just behind the leaders, and then there’s a gap back to Macho Again and Kentucky Bear.  Stevil and Riley Tucker are 3 and 4 wide to the outside and then there’s a gap back to Yankee Bravo.  Icabad Crane is 11th,  and the trailer is Racecar Rhapsody as the horses head into the first turn. 


They’re in the turn, and it’s Giant Moon with a ½ length lead over Tres Borrachos.  Big Brown is well-placed in third and Gayego is fourth a length back.  Hey Byrn is just behind in fifth, and three lengths separate him from the logjam in back.  Macho Again has been saving ground on the rail, with Kentucky Bear running to his side.  Stevil and Riley Tucker are still wide of Kentucky Bear and then there’s a gap of two lengths back to Yankee Bravo with Icabad Crane and Racecar Rhapsody not being asked to run. 


The opening quarter was a slow 23 and 8 tenths.  As they head down the backstretch, Tres Borrachos has moved a nose ahead of Giant Moon.  Big Brown is running comfortably in third and Gayego is beginning to move closer to the leaders.  Hey Byrn is still in fifth but Macho Again and Kentucky Bear are closing in on him. 


They race down the backstretch and the half goes in a pedestrian 47 and 2 tenths.  Gayego is making a move and he’s closing in on the lead and neck and neck with Big Brown.  Tres Borrachos is beginning to tire and Giant Moon has the lead.  And there goes Big Brown.  He’s going for the lead, and he has it right now.  Giant Moon is in second, and Gayego has a bead on him.  Hey Byrn and Tres Borrachos are tiring, and Macho Again has passed them both.  Kentucky Bear makes his move and he’s going to the outside of Macho Again.  Racecar Rhapsody is flying and has made a move to get into eighth.


As they approach the final turn, it’s Big Brown opening a two and a half length lead.  Gayego has moved into second and may be gaining ground on Big Brown.  Giant Moon is third and there’s a gap of two back to Macho Again, Kentucky Bear, and Racecar Rhapsody.


As they turn for home, it’s all Big Brown.  He’s opened a four length lead over Gayego with Giant Moon gaining on him in third.  Kentucky Bear and Macho Again are hooked up in a duel for fourth with Racecar Rhapsody still there in sixth.  Yankee Bravo is making his move, but it is too late.


In the deep stretch, it’s all Big Brown by four and a half lengths.  He’s going to cross the finish line and win the 113th Preakness Stakes.  Kentucky Bear closes strong for second with Giant Moon holding on for third.  There’s a photo for fourth between Gayego and Macho Again.


My $100 Mythical Wager


You hear that there’s no value in putting $100 on Big Brown to win at 1-2 odds at best.  I beg to differ if you think he has a 75% chance of winning this race.  Where else can you get a 50% return on your investment in just two minutes?  Think about this.  Let’s say you invested $100 on a stock at 9:30 AM Monday.  How many will give you a chance to sell at $150 at 9:32 after all commissions have been paid.  You’d be lucky to find a stock that will return 50% in a year, and more realistically, you would happily settle for a 50% return after three years.


On the other hand, betting $100 on Big Brown to win is like routing for the 1927 New York Yankees to beat the St. Louis Browns.  I’m guessing there will be more money in the exotic pool for than any other this decade.  Even when Barbaro won the Derby so convincingly two years ago, he wasn’t nearly as heavy a favorite as Big Brown is going to be (mostly because there was still some class in Preakness 101).  Big Brown has chased away all the other class horses, and what we are left with is something akin to when the great Boxer Joe Louis defeated Primo Carnera and Max Baer.  Once he was the heavyweight champion, there weren’t any top-class contenders left, and those poor saps who went down hard were said to be members of “the bum of the month club.”  It’s fitting that Louis was the Brown Bomber, a nickname that could aptly apply to Big Brown.


So, I am going to take half of my $100 and go with what looks like a sure thing.  Then, I am going to take my “sure thing” and use it in the exotics.


$50 on Big Brown to win


$4 Exacta Partial Wheel with Big Brown keyed over Giant Moon, Kentucky Bear, Gayego, Macho Again, and Racecar Rhapsody ($20 total in the wheel)


$1 Trifecta Partial Wheel with Big Brown keyed over Giant Moon, Kentucky Bear, and Gayego over the field (30 separate $1 wagers)


The Real Experts


Two weeks ago, I introduced you to a group of friends who are much better at this than me.  Three of them proved their worth and picked winning wagers for you, while my return lost all of its $100 investment.  All three of those experts are back to offer their sage advice.  This week, one new expert will supply his genius to the race.  He would have contributed for the Derby blog, but he was working as a journalist at Churchill Downs and wrote an excellent, albeit sad story on the filly Eight Belles.


Note: The experts all submitted their selections prior to Behindthebar scratching.  I contacted Wes K so that he could alter his pick after the announcement.


Walker Jones

Fool me once….Big Brown convinced me he’s a horse for the ages so I’m certainly not going to try to beat him in this spot.  He obviously offers no value in the win pool and if he comes in first or second he will kill the place and show pools so I’ll take a stab at the exotics.  Before outlining my wagers I pick the race as follows:


1) Big Brown

2) Tres Borrachos

3) Racecar Rhapsody


Tres Borrachos is bred for the classic distances and has tried hard in all of his races and is improving.  He was headed in the Ark Derby and fought back for the show.  He may get an easy lead and should hang tough in the stretch even if Big Brown goes by him.  Racecar Rhapsody is also bred to easily handle the 1 3/16 distance and is a deep closer.  He should be flying late.  Both Tres Borrachos and Racecar Rhapsody have run their races no matter what the surface as opposed to others like Behindatthebar who may prefer a synthetic track.


I will bet my $100 as follows….


$30 exacta Big Brown on top of Tres Borrachos/Racecar Rhapsody = $60

$20 trifecta Big Brown to win with TB & RR second and third = $40


Wesley Kahnert


I’ll stick with the winning formula I had in the Derby.  I may not be ready to give him the Triple Crown, because the Belmont is torturous on horses not ready to run 1 ½ miles on three weeks notice, but I cannot see any horse coming within 10 lengths of Big Brown.  Half of the remaining dozen can finish second in this race and almost all of them have a chance for third.  The luck of the draw says that one of the two horses in the field will be a nice long shot. 


I’m taking $100 on Big Brown in a trifecta with the entire field in the second and third positions.  (Editor’s note: That means $1 each on Big Brown over the field over the field for 100 separate wagers.  If Big Brown wins, Wes automatically wins the trifecta).


Randy Moss’s Protégé  (Note: This person has no affiliation with Randy Moss other than being a devout follower of Moss’s Pace Figures).


Big Brown ran a 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby, and if you look at the pace and how much extra he had to run in the race, he ran the equivalent of a 115 to 120.  If you follow the Thorograph sheets, you will see that they consider Big Brown’s Derby to be up there among the top Derby finishes ever.  I agree that we are looking at the next Secretariat.  I don’t think the short layoff will hurt Big Brown.  As long as his front legs are okay, he will run the same race Saturday that he ran two weeks ago.  Richard Dutrow is acting like the coach who builds up his opponent, so when his team wins 42-0, it looks like an accomplishment.  Expect 42-0 in this horse race.  His winning silks will already be painted on the weather vane before the second place horse crosses the finish line.


I’ll put $20 on Big Brown to win, $20 on Big Brown to show because his show pool money may be even better than his win pool money if few people bet him to show.


With the other $60, I will play an Exacta partial wheel with Big Brown keyed over the six longest shots: Tres Borrachos, Icabad Crane, Racecar Rhapsody, Stevil, Riley Tucker, and Giant Moon at $10 apiece.


Bill Marhsall


William goes by the handle of Class of Clyde in the Vanderbilt University Athletics Internet world.  He is a veteran of thoroughbred racing, and he was in Louisville to report on the Derby for the Aiken, South Carolina newspaper.


“Sure Things at Pimlico”


One thing can be said with confidence about the Preakness – when the result is in, it’s even money it won’t make sense.  For every Preakness that plays according to form, there’s one that throws form out the window.  So there’s hope for those seeking the winner of this Preakness elsewhere than the obvious.  And without question, the obvious is Big Brown.


While there have been no big upsets since the turn of the century, not many expected 3-10 favorite Fusaichi Pegasus to lose his bid for the Black-Eyed Susans in ’00.  But he did – to Red Bullet, which he had beaten in the Wood Memorial.  The very next year, Monarchos wheeled in to Baltimore from Louisville having recorded the second fastest winning time in the history of the Kentucky Derby.  Point Given was the “hot horse” that year, but few would have predicted that, of the five Derby runners returning for the Preakness, Monarchos would finish last.


In the ‘90s, we saw Louis Quatorze, 16th in the Derby, win the Preakness handily.  There was Pine Bluff, 5th in Louisville leaving that spot available for the Derby winner, Lil E. Tee, at Pimlico.  Hansel, 10th in the Derby galloped home 7 lengths ahead of his Preakness field, including the first three from the ’91 Derby.


On the flip side, 6 of the last 11 Preakness winners were keeping a Triple Crown bid alive, having also won the Derby.


This year, we have another sure thing in Big Brown, with only one Derby rival, Gayego, showing up for a rematch.  Almost half the field (5 starters) are eligible for non-winners of two lifetime.  No doubt, Big Brown should walk his beat.  But no less so than Riva Ridge and Swale, both compromised by sloppy tracks, or Bold Forbes, done in by a suicidal pace, or Strike the Gold and Sea Hero, well beaten for no apparent reason.


Big Brown may win from here to there, but remember, there are no sure things in horse racing.


All the above being said, I think Big Brown will win this Preakness.  The only way I see to bet it is to try to pick the second horse and make exactas.  Trifectas cost too much with the synthetic variable on top of too few starts and too little consistency among the rest of the field.  I liked Macho Again’s Derby Trial in which he beat some decent horses on the dirt from off the pace.  I thought Yankee Bravo ran well in the Louisiana Derby and was intimidated when lodging his bid in the Santa Anita Derby by a swerving Bob Black Jack.  Racecar Rhapsody has never run a truly bad race and, being a dead closer, might come along to pick up the pieces.  With $100, I’d make $20 cold exactas with Big Brown on top of these three and $10 exactas with Big Brown beneath these three.  With the remaining $10, I’d do a $2 box using Macho Again with both Yankee Bravo and Racecar Rhapsody, and use the last $2 for a cold exacta, Yankee Bravo on top of Racecar Rhapsody.  


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