A Peek at the Preak
The Daily Racing Form�s 13 handicapping experts, given four picks each, and having not so much as mentioned War Emblem as a possibility in the Derby (save Steven Crist�s fourth selection), have bravely shaken off and wisely forgotten that inauspicious bit of toutery and moved on to the Preakness. Certainly we all make mistakes in handicapping, and Beyer humanizes himself when he admits to passing the horse which had the best Beyer number in any of the pps in the Derby field in its last race, even though it went off at 20/1. But the lack of accountability, the memory hole down which poor handicapping results disappear, is amusing, and should stand as a warning to anyone brave enough to listen to anyone else�s handicapping, including mine, before-the-fact.
That�s why handicappers who keep a public accounting of their records, including ROI, are notable, whether they win or lose. That�s why, when I want a second opinion on who�s gonna win an upcoming big race, I check The Grandstand or Player Picks. The record of the handicappers who post there is public and generally pretty impressive.
The 13 DRF handicappers figure to do better in the Preakness, which tends to be more formful than the Derby.
So, on to this weekend�s tomfoolery. Using my mechanical contender selection technique (see last issue), I end up with five contenders for the Preakness:
I don�t have much to add to the standard analysis of this year�s Preakness. There is a lot of early speed just outside of War Emblem. This may be a bad thing for War Emblem. But possibly not as bad as those other trainers think. For one thing, Pimlico�s track is not as deeply banked as most. All that early speed on the outside might end up in the parking lot if they�re not careful. Depending on the weather, near the rail has been a pretty good place to be at Pimlico this meet, so being the inside speed might not be such a terrible thing for War Emblem.
If you forget it�s the Preakness and cover up the names of the horses to avoid mental bias, it�s hard to miss War Emblem�s last two races. The Beyer figures tower over the rest of the field. This is a horse with a lot of ability.
Says Baffert, "He�s blooming. We put him on a different feed program. He adapted pretty quickly... Since I had the horse, I've been working on getting him to relax. This horse was a project. I'm so proud of my staff and everybody who worked with the horse took a lot of time and effort. I could see him getting better every day. Nobody saw the horse developing like we saw him, but I wasn't really bragging on him, because he is a speed horse, and you want him to be left alone."
So the question is: is he still in good condition after the Derby?
Says Baffert, "It was an easy race on War Emblem. Most of my Derby winners come back exhausted; not him."
And will War Emblem and Espinoza change pace tactics?
Says Baffert, "If they go with him in the Preakness, who's going to be around at the end? I can't change the way he runs."
So, I, like everyone else, expect a rush hour up front early on in the Preakness. However, I think that outside speed might be disadvantaged by the track and the talent of War Emblem. War Emblem is thought of as an early-speed horse, but my figures indicate that he probably also has the best late kick in the bunch. And despite Pimlico�s reputation as a speed-favoring track, the fact is that it has a relatively slow surface where a good late kick might come in handy.
"Despite Pimlico�s reputation as a speed-favoring track, the fact is that it has a relatively slow surface where a good late kick might come in handy."
I definitely worry about two other horses: First, there�s Medaglia d�Oro, who had a troubled Derby trip and didn�t get the early lead that I expected. With a clean trip this time, he could have the talent to take the race. Second, there�s Proud Citizen. Placed to War Emblem, Lukas-trained in the Preakness, he�s got to be given a chance. Of course there are other more remote possibilities, but this is the Preakness, not the Derby, and, if the track isn't really off, a surprise here would be a surprise.
Here�s the betting line:
Like last year�s Preakness, my opinion pretty closely matches the public opinion. But last year, I got lucky when one of my marginal contenders, A.P. Valentine, was an overlay, and thus completed one of my standard exacta combinations.
This year, I might actually get to bet on my top two selections. If the track odds are similar to the morning line odds, I�ll probably end up betting War Emblem and Proud Citizen to win. I�ll look for Barry Meadow-style place and show overlays for the top two horses. In exactas, I normally box the overlays and also wheel the overlays top-and-bottom to the top two favorites. Using that strategy, it looks like I might end up with a three-horse box involving War Emblem, Proud Citizen and Medaglia d�Oro. As always, it depends on who the toteboard makes overlays.
Despite the way it probably looks from my newsletters, I�m not a big drinker. (Except once in a while. I believe in moderation in everything, including moderation.) But the Triple Crown cocktails are fun. I�m going to try the Preakness version, the Black-Eyed Susan, tomorrow. Unlike the mint julep, which was clearly outdistanced by the new Chocolate Mint Julep, I don�t think the Black-Eyed Susan needs any race-day tampering. So here�s the recipe straight-up:
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