Pillars of Horse Racing Betting Apply to Preakness

The four pillars of horse racing betting and handicapping—speed, pace, track bias and value—should apply when Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome seeks to win the second jewel in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse, in Baltimore, Saturday, May 17.

Riding a five-race win streak in which he’s dominated his opposition, California Chrome will enter the starting gate at the Old Hilltop as an odds-on favorite to win the mile and three-sixteenth Preakness. But is he a good bet? Let’s look at the race from a classic wagering standard, assessing the key horse racing handicapping and betting elements:

Speed: Years ago, the only way to assess speed was by looking at the final time of the race. Nowadays, sophisticated analysis yields what are called speed figures, a numerical grade for every horse in every race. A little bit art and a little bit science, speed figures have become an accepted handicapping tool for serious handicappers. Among the most reliable speed figures are those developed by Andrew Beyer, former turf writer for The Washington Post. 

Interestingly, the 3-year-old with the highest Beyer Speed Figure expected to start in the Preakness is not California Chrome but Social Inclusion, who earned a 110 in just the second start of his three-race career. California Chrome scored a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 in his victory in the Santa Anita Derby last month but regressed to a 97 in his victory in the Kentucky Derby. It is the lowest number for a Kentucky Derby winner since Beyer began publishing his figures in 1992.

Since the horse who races fastest wins the race, without unexpected and dramatic improvement, just two other Preakness probable, Dynamic Impact, who scored a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in capturing the Illinois Derby April 19, and General A Rod, who has a 101 Beyer Speed Figure on his resume but finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby, have the requisite speed to compete.

Pace: The way the race is run usually has a huge impact on the outcome. Take two mile races that are run in the identical time of 1:36. In the first, the fractions are 22.2 for the quarter, 45.3 for the half and 1:09.4 for three quarters. In the second, the fractions are 24 for the quarter, 48 for the half and 1:12 for three quarters. While the final times are identical, in the first example, the pace was much faster which, depending on the quality of the horses involved, could compromise the chances of horses on or near that hot pace. In the second, the pace was much more moderate which probably would limit the amount of a ground horses could make up from off the pace.     

“Pace makes race,” as the saying goes and that certainly should apply in the Preakness.

While expected to be fast, the pace in the Kentucky Derby was painfully slow, resulting in a final time of 2:03.66 for the one and one-quarter mile race, the slowest time for a fast track Derby winner in 40 years. With his excellent tactical speed, California Chrome was never worse than third and able to pounce at the top of the stretch, opening up a five-length lead that was impossible for his foes to overcome.

With Bayern, General A Rod, Pablo Del Monte, Ring Weekend and, most importantly, Social Inclusion, all blessed with excellent speed, the pace scenario should be far quicker for the Preakness and California Chrome, while still the horse to beat, may have to work harder to secure a good position. The prospect of a faster pace may be enough for some longshot horse racing betting advocates to try to beat heavily favored California Chrome.

Track Bias: Depending on a number of conditions, including the depth, hardness and amount of moisture in the racing surface, a track can develop a bias. In fact, there are two types of biases, strategic and positional. Strategic biases favor either frontrunners—usually when the track is hard and fast—or closers—often when the track is heavy or cuppy—while a positional bias refers to a part of the track, inside or outside. Often these biases are combined where pacesetters on the rail or come-from-behind horses rallying wide, have an advantage. 

The shrewd horse racing betting aficionado will carefully analyze the previous races to see if a bias can be discovered.    

Value: Perhaps among the four pillars, this is the one that gives professional horse betting advocates their biggest edge against casual horse racing betting fans. The search for value, trying to wager on a horse who is represents a greater chance of success than his odds indicate as opposed to just betting on the most likely winner of the race, irrespective of his price, is an essential part of longtime success.

Certainly, based on his recent form, California Chrome deserves the favorite’s role in the Preakness. But with a more realistic pace and several intriguing newcomers who enter the race with more rest than the Kentucky Derby winner, horse racing betting fans can’t be blamed if they look to upset the favorite.