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PREAKNESS ADVANCE: Keys for Spotting Who'll be Fastest at Pimlico

Trends to consider
By Steve Byk

5/18/05... Though no race has more "rules" for identifying a potential winner than the Derby, Saturday's second leg of the Triple Crown has a few of its' own maxims that can help point out a possible Woodlawn Vase recipient.

While driving out of Louisville after the 2003 Derby, I heard a local radio broadcaster recap the previous day's result and explain his Triple Crown wagering approach. He said his uncle had told him years before that there was a simple way to bet the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont that was nearly foolproof. "The fittest horse wins the Derby, the fastest horse wins the Preakness and the best horse wins the Belmont," he said. I thought about that on my drive to Chicago that Sunday morning and many times since.

Though a novice horseplayer may not be able to instantly discern what constitutes the "fittest, fastest and best" sophomores involved in the Triple Crown events, the concept is sound and when examining results of the three races, bares out well. Last year, Smarty Jones unarguably qualified on the fittest and fastest scores, while the case could be made that Birdstone was "best", when sound, with Belmont and Travers wins.

In 2003, Funny Cide was certainly the fittest and fastest in the first two legs, and Empire Maker proved himself as the "best" of the three year olds. Had he been fit on the first Saturday in May, he undoubtedly would have been a Derby winner and possibly a Triple Crown winner.

In 2001, Point Given was unquestionably the "fastest" and "best" horse in his crop, but wasn't fit on Derby Day after just two prep races before the Run for the Roses. A dead fit Monarchos crushed the field at Churchill that day.

Thunder Gulch was surely the top runner in his class in 1995, and his Derby-Belmont fits the bill for fitness and quality standards. But Timber Country was absolutely the "fastest" colt in that group and his Preakness win made sense on the heels of his failure as the Derby favorite two weeks before.

Of course there are exceptions to this facile approach. No one would contend that Sarava was the "best" horse of the Class of 2002, but War Emblem's stumble out of the Belmont starting gate ended all chance for the dual classic winner to close out a Triple Crown sweep and stamp himself as an all-time great thoroughbred.

Fitness was an obvious theme two weeks ago at Churchill. Winner Giacomo had raced twice at 9f and once at 8.5, while augmenting his starts with 19f of morning efforts since April 1. A look at the Derby results shows that other than Closing Argument, (who emulated Lion Heart's 2004 performance), the top five finishers were all horses that had made the requisite number of at least three starts (January through April) that precluded fitness for a rose run.

In addition to "fittest, fastest, best", some quantitative analysis can help filter through the facts to help determine who is eligible for Preakness success. In creating a profile of a Preakness winner, we looked for a set of performance standards that have been regularly demonstrated by the winners of the storied Woodlawn Vase over the past 12 years. The results are startlingly similar.

Below is a list of the last dozen Preakness winners with the number of career starts each made coming into Baltimore, their career wins to that point, their number of graded stakes wins, the number of triple digit Beyer figures (100+) they had in tow by mid-May and whether or not they ran in the Derby (Y/N) and their finish in it:

10 st/4 w/2 gsw/3 tdb/Y, ITM @ Derby 73%--Avg. winner 1993-2004

Every Preakness winner the past 11 years exhibited the following characteristics coming into the Preakness, with exceptions noted:

What does this "profile" tell us about the 2005 version of the Preakness? Below we apply the six criteria to Saturday's possible field:

Qualifies on 6/6 counts:
AFLEET ALEX: 10 st/6 w/3 gsw/3 tdb/Y, 3rd

Qualifies on 5/6 counts:
CLOSING ARGUMENT: 8 st/3 w/1 gsw/0 tdb/Y, 2nd
HIGH FLY: 7 st/5 w/2 gsw/2 tdb/Y, 10th

Qualifies on 4/6 counts:
GIACOMO: 8 st/2 w/1 gsw/1 tdb/Y, 1st
WILKO: 15 st/3 w/1 gsw/0 tdb/Y, 6th
SUN KING: 8 st/3 w/1 gsw/1 tdb/Y, 15th
GOING WILD: 10 st/3 w/0 gsw/2 tdb/Y, 18th

Qualifies on 3/6 counts:
SCRAPPY T: 9 st/3 w/1 gsw/1 tdb/N
HIGH LIMIT: 5 st/3 w/1 gsw/1 tdb/Y, 20th

Qualifies on 2/6 counts:
GREELEY'S GALAXY: 5 st/3 w/1 gsw/1 tdb/Y, 11th
NOBLE CAUSEWAY: 7 st/2 w/0 gsw/1 tdb/Y, 14th
GALLOPING GROCER: 8 st/3 w/0 gsw/1 tdb/N
MALIBU MOONSHINE: 10 st/6 w/0 gsw/0 tdb/N
GOLDEN MAN: 11 st/4 w/0 gsw/0 tdb/N

Qualifies on 1/6 counts:
HAL'S IMAGE: 16 st/2 w/0 gsw/0 tdb/N

If the potential winner and exotic candidates look a little chalky to you, don't be surprised. The Preakness has been a formful race for many years, regularly producing low-priced winners and gimmicks. By all measures, it would look like the top three Derby finishers that are contesting the Preakness are the most likely candidates for success in Charm City. As is typical, the six figure trifecta from Churchill is the place to concentrate wagering efforts, with an eye towards High Fly for potential for a mutuel invasion.

There have been high priced exacta finishers in the Preakness however, with Midway Road (2003, 20-1), Magic Weisner (2002, 46-1) and Oliver's Twist (1995, 25-1) immediately coming to mind, and El Bakan's 51-1 trifecta-charging third in 1993 another result that made multi-horse wagers worthwhile.

Of the potential exotics finishers that could provide value, Scrappy T's three gritty wins and graded stakes score in the Withers demonstrates promise, while Greeley's Galaxy 106 IL Derby Beyer signals the kind of speed necessary to impact the Preakness. Wilko may be capable of a better effort off the Derby sixth, only his third start of the year, and Bobby Frankel will add blinkers to High Limit who also makes start four of his sophomore campaign.

The stop in Kentucky showed us who was the most fit... Baltimore is the place to that will decide who's the fastest of those left standing. If Giacomo cannot leave Maryland with a second jewel under his saddlecloth, then the visit to majestic Belmont Park June 11 will settle who's "best" this spring among the Class of 2005.

Steve Byk is a Saratoga, NY-based freelance writer who has run Derbytrail.com since 2003, and whose work has appeared on Blood-Horse.com. His e-mail is sbyk@nycap.rr.com.


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