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Johnny D's 2018 Preakness Stakes Analysis

by Johnny D

May 17, 2018

We correctly tabbed the Derby result in this space, touting winner Justify as The One to Beat and second and third-place finishers, respectively, Good Magic and Audible as ‘Ones That Can Do It.’ However, we didn’t do quite as well with our suggested wagering strategies. We suggested keying Justify in the first, second and third legs of $1 Trifectas. Ultimately, we cashed the tri but didn’t make any money. How can a handicapper be so correct—that Justify was the horse to beat and that Good Magic and Audible were second and third best—and yet be so incorrect. It’s easy: through poor money management. Instead of putting the bankroll’s lion’s share on the most likely outcome, our Derby wagers were all the same denominations. In a word: Bad!

The Preakness field is more than half as small as the Kentucky Derby gathering and the price on Justify, the favorite, will be considerably shorter than it was on him winning on the first Saturday in May. Also, Good Magic, probable second choice in the Preakness, will be less than one-third the price he was in the Derby. Horseplayers, therefore, will need to be laser-like in their approaches to the race, wagering more money on most likely outcomes and less on more rare possibilities.

One common denominator between Preakness and Derby is rain. And plenty of it. At this writing Thursday, the wet stuff is predicted to continue to fall through the weekend. There’s little hope that the track will be anything but soaked come the Preakness ‘They’re Off!’. Then again, weather forecasters are a bit like horseplayers—they’re wrong more often than right. Let’s hope either Friday or Saturday the sun appears to dry up all the rain and the inky-dinky spider can go up the spout again.

Here’s one man’s analysis of the 143rd Preakness Stakes, followed by a suggested wagering strategy.

1. Quip (Brisset/Geroux) - 12/1

This son of Distorted Humor has won three of five starts, including the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. He had enough points to start in the Kentucky Derby, but his connections elected to skip the race to give him additional time to develop. It should be noted that some of Quip’s owners also have an interest in Justify, Audible and Noble Indy, so they probably figured that that they already had their Kentucky Derby bases covered without him in the lineup. Quip’s lone pair of losses came in a troubled Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and while chasing Magnum Moon around the track in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. He’s speedy enough to be close and probably will be forced to go for the lead early from the rail. It’s difficult to imagine a trip that makes him win because he’s just not as fast as some of the others in here. But he’s tough, well-rested and making only his third start of the season. An in-the-money finish is possible.

2. Lone Sailor (Amoss/Ortiz Jr.) - 15/1

We listed Lone Sailor as our ‘bomb’ play in the Kentucky Derby. Although he outran his odds to finish a troubled eighth, the play didn’t work out. Pre-Derby we considered ‘Sailor as an improving horse, but he really didn’t jump forward in the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps he’s developed as much as he can at this point. He has no speed and will need to rally from far back. There’s a chance an honest pace could develop, and longshot deep-closers often historically find a spot in Preakness exotics. A significant rider switch from James Graham to Irad Ortiz, Jr suggests that connections are bullish on their chances. Not to discount Graham’s ability, but the adjustment to a more prominent rider ought to benefit this son of Majestic Warrior. Lone Sailor will be a decent price and should be included in exotic considerations.

3. Sporting Chance (Lukas/Contreras) - 30/1

He didn’t have enough points to start in the Kentucky Derby, so he ran in the Pat Day Mile instead. Of course, that field wasn’t nearly as strong as the Derby lineup and Sporting Chance’s well-beaten fourth-placing is far from impressive. Please note: he had trouble in the race, but eventful trips are something he’s used to. Twice he’s veered out late in the stretch: once while winning the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga and again in the Blue Grass when he was disqualified from third to fourth because of interference. How he will behave in the Preakness is anyone’s guess? There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for his unusual behavior. He’s really not fast enough on figs to be a ‘win’ threat, but if he behaves he could cut out a slice of this at a huge number.

4. Diamond King (Servis/Castellano) - 30/1

He gets a ‘free-roll’ in the Preakness by virtue of his narrow, three-quarter length win in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel. He’ll be a longshot here, but connections can’t be blamed for taking a shot. He’s got speed, enough to set or force the early pace, but it’s difficult to imagine him holding off Justify to the end. The real question regards his chances of hanging around for a share of the purse. We’ll assume those chances are not good.

5. Good Magic (Brown/Ortiz) - 3/1

Second in the Kentucky Derby, Good Magic ought to appreciate a cut back in distance from the mile and one-quarter Kentucky Derby. After making a determined run at Justify in early stretch at Churchill, Good Magic seemed spent and was barely able to hold off the closing charge of Audible. Trainer Chad Brown has suggested that because Justify has had to squeeze so many races into such a short time Good Magic might have a chance to upset him in a Pimlico rematch. We don’t share the trainer’s enthusiasm. We don’t like that Brown waited so long to commit to running Good Magic in the Preakness. We get that Brown doesn’t like to run horses back in two weeks. However, if Brown was on the fence about running and Justify’s perceived issues tipped the scales, that’s not going to be enough. Like Bolt d’Oro did in the Santa Anita Derby, Good Magic hit Justify with his best punch in the Kentucky Derby. And the unbeaten son of Scat Daddy hardly blinked. No reason to believe things will be different in Baltimore. The real question is can Good Magic be relied upon to finish second? We think there’s a decent chance he may not respond well to a quick return to the races against a foe that’s clearly better than him. He may just throw in the towel Saturday and finish third or even worse.

6. Tenfold (Asmussen/Santana Jr.) - 20/1

With just three career starts, including none as a 2-year-old, this is a colt on the move, according to Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. How much can he improve? That’s the money question and what Asmussen plans to find out along with the rest of us. Fifth in the Arkansas Derby from a perfect trip, Tenfold has had time to rest and develop since that April 14 start—only his third career outing. There’s reason to believe he could make a forward move in the Preakness and outrun his odds. He also should be close in the early going. This is a big step forward--his fourth career race and second Grade 1 stakes—so it’s difficult to expect too much. He could improve enough to hit the board and the price should be right.

7. Justify (Baffert/Smith) - 1/2

The unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner will be a very short-priced favorite to make it five wins in five starts and he could set the stage for a shot at a Triple Crown. He has so many handicapping factors in his corner—size, strength, conditioning, fastest speed figs, pace advantage, Hall-of-Fame jockey and trainer, off track ability, etc.

However, the week following the Derby was a bit eventful for Justify—at least in social media circles. The morning after the Derby, Bob Baffert brought Justify out of his stall and paraded him before an overflowing group of media. During that time, Justify took a bad step or two, suggesting all was not kosher. Baffert deflected concerns and blamed the poor step on gravel stones under hoof, ‘scratches,’ and lingering remnants from racing over a wet Derby surface. He said he wasn’t worried about Justify at all and soon returned to California leaving capable assistant Jim Barnes in charge at Churchill. In the next few days a variety of additional explanations for Justify’s Sunday stutter steps surfaced, including a bruised hoof and/or a quarter crack. Later in the week, when Justify returned to the track, on schedule, he seemed fine. However, photographs showed he was wearing a three-quarter shoe on the hoof in question. By last Monday, according to Baffert who was back in Louisville to oversee proceedings, all was well, and a full shoe had been attached.

How much attention (if any) one pays to such news will determine how Preakness wagers are crafted. Justify seems a Preakness cinch and should be the focal point of most investments. However, if previous reports of discomfort influence a player significantly enough to anticipate a regressed Preakness performance, then small wagers can result in mad stacks!

From this chair, we view the favorite’s post-Derby health concerns as a mountain fabricated from a molehill and fully expect Justify will annex the second leg of the Triple Crown.

8. Bravazo (Lukas/Saez) - 20/1

He had a wide trip in the Kentucky Derby and finished a creditable sixth at nearly 67-1. Not an awful Preakness prep. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas isn’t in the Hall of Fame for nothing. He knows how to win this race (6 times)—with favorites and longshots alike. He upset the applecart with Oxbow ($32.80), in 2013 and Bravazo’s pre-Preakness past performances resemble Oxbow’s. Bravazo has won two of four races this year, including the Grade 2 Risen Star. Bravazo’s pre-Derby stock was low because he lugged out on the turn in the Louisiana Derby. However, he did nothing of the sort in the Louisville version. His speed figs are below what will be needed to win this but respect for a trainer who’s won this race a half-dozen times suggests including Bravazo in at least some exotic slots.

Bottom Line

The One to Beat
7. Justify

The One That Can Do It

Most Probable Exotic Candidate:
5. Good Magic

Most Profitable Exotic Candidates:
2. Lone Sailor, 6. Tenfold

Suggested Wagers ($96 Total):

$3 Trifecta ($36 Total)
First: 7. Justify
Second: All
Third: 2. Lone Sailor, 6. Tenfold

$1 Superfecta ($60 Total)
First: 7. Justify
Second: 2. Lone Sailor, 6. Tenfold
Third: All
Fourth: All

Race On!