Horse Racing: Preakness
Friday, May 14, 2004; 1:00 PM
This weekend's Preakness horse race has competitors wondering how to beat Smarty Jones, winner of the Kentucky Derby. No matter his post position or the track condition, the outcome has always been the same -- seven races, seven wins.
Horse racing handicapper Liam Durbin of e-ponies.com will be online Friday, May 14 at 1 p.m. ET to answer your questions about this weekend's Triple Crown race.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
The Cliff's Edge:
What is the latest on his injury?
I was going to bet on him given that he had legitimate excuses in the Derby--the shoe problem, the weather hurting a closer's chances.
But now, I can't see putting a dime on him.
Liam Durbin: First all, welcome everyone! I'll try to answer questions as succinctly as possible to allow for more questions. But if I don't do one justice, just post a follow-up.
I'm starting with an easy one. Cliff's Edge was scratched this morning. So you won't have to agonize over it. I would not have had money on him anyway, so I hate to see him go. I wasn't buying the excuses in the Derby. I think Smarty would have had it anyway.
Could this horse be a factor?
Will the rest he has had work in favor for him?
Jerry Bailey always attracts a lot of attention but I wonder if he has the horse.
Liam Durbin: Yes I do. My computer program didn't give him much of a look, but I'm giving him credit for overcoming some pretty big trouble in his last two, and still finishing strong. I will have him in my exotics. I don't know that the rest will help or hurt. I have to trust his handlers for that. I'm not a jockey player (at this level). In the Triple Crown, they have all earned the right to be there. It is a jockey's race to lose, seldom his to win.
The media is too busy cannonizing this great story of a Kentucky Derby winner.
If there hadn't been a deluge before the Derby, closers like Imperialism or The Cliff's Edge would have been much closer.
Smarty hasn't faced top flight competition on a fast track. Does your analysis classify him as unbeatable?
Liam Durbin: I was there all day (and Oaks day) and saw how the track was handling. Closers were closing and sprinters were sprinting. Even in the slop, it seemed fair to me. Smarty had excuses too, he just didn't need to offer any. Smarty has won the toughest leg of the Triple Crown. I was with him for the Derby, I think he is still the indicated horse. But I have to admit I love the story. I'm glad to see good things happen for the jockey and trainer.
Chevy Chase, Md.:
Liam, great Web site. I felt like a sucker for putting Borrego in my trifects at the Derby. Seeing that his record in graded stakes is poor, is there any reason to like him tomorrow?
Liam Durbin: I'm going to go out on a limb and say no. I was a naysayer in the Derby for him, and he didn't change my mind that day.
Do you think that they should consider running the Preakness before the Kentucky Derby as they did in some past years? Then the distances at these triple crown races would be increasing at each track instead of how it's being done now.
Liam Durbin: No, not really. I like the sequence. But I would be alright with putting another week in betwen the Derby and Preakness. I know Andy Beyer spoke against it, but things change, and traditions adapt. The safety of the animals is a factor, and it would encourage more horses to try all three.
San Diego, Calif.:
Thanks for taking my question. A fundamental handicapping principle is that in a sprint with one turn, it's advantageous to be on the outside so as not to be blocked on the rail stuck behind faster early horses, conversely, in routes around two turns, especially when the turns are tight (i.e. Pimlico) being outside can be disadvantageous as too much ground can be lost on that first turn if the horse is forced to stay wide. Are Smarty Jones connections making a strategic mistake in opting for the 7 hole?
Liam Durbin: Absolutely not! This is the same guy that put him in the 15 spot for the Derby, because he knew his horse. That worked out ok. Servis knows what he is doing. He chose 7 when he had a lot of options, I'm not second-guessing him.
Your "e-ponies.com" handicapping operation provides free full-card selections for several major tracks based on a computer program that you developed. While your program examines each horse's past performances, and considers variables such as speed, class, form, and connections, it can't possibly consider everything. What additional factors should a prudent bettor consider when using your selection sheets?
Liam Durbin: Great question! Because it shows you are thinking about using my sheets to compliment your handicapping efforts. That is a good thought. Obviously, my computer can't consider track conditions, or previous races with a troubled trip. I offered the example earlier in the chat about Eddington. In my opinion, he has some excuses in his last two starts that I'm giving him bonus points for. But my computer sees them both as solid third place efforts. The computer also doesn't consider post position. It also will not throw out two horses with blazing speed. Humans would see that as a speed duel developing, and account for how it will hurt both their chances. But my computer sees them both as speedy. My computer program's strength is that it is a dispassionate analysis. It doesn't care about the human interest stories, or a horse that owes me money, etc. It is just the facts. That is more valuable than people realize, because our biases work against us more often than they help.
I think the Preakness is a one horse race. And that horse is from 15 minutes away at Philly Park -- Smarty Jones. What do you think about Smarty Jones superfecta key with Lion Heart, Imperialism, Eddington? I would do another super key and through in Gary Stevens horse in place of Eddington. Can Smarty be beat?
Liam Durbin: I like that superfecta a lot. But I think others will too. I see the Preakness betting divided between the haves and have nots. It will gravitate towards the Derby top finishers, and the betting public will throw in Rock Hard Ten. (The cool name helps!) Eddington will get modest play and will likely be the only real value in your superfecta. But if it comes in that way, you will have done the hard work. You can just get in line, don't worry about the payoff. Smarty can be beat, because any horse can be beat. There is too much racing luck involved, and the fact that every athlete has good days and bad days. But I would say that if they ran this race 10 times, Smarty would win it seven times.
Loudoun County, Va. (horse country!):
Liam: Have you heard any recent news on the health and status of our local hero, the beloved Magic Weisner? Is there any chance he'll ever get back on the track again?
I am very pleased to say that I predicted Magic's fast-charging second-place finish in the Preakness two years ago. I don't see local entry Water Cannon doing anything of the sort this time around.
Liam Durbin: No. I apologize that I have not. You should try one of the search engines like Google. If anything has been published on him, it will be there. Put it in quotes like this, "Magic Weisner"
With Tabit out, are Smarty, Lion Heart, and Imperalism really still contenders? I was leaning toward Tabit in the Preakness two weeks agao (as a Maryland horse) but really think that Lion Heart, has the heart to go wire to wire. Who really can challenge those three?
Liam Durbin: Those are the ones to beat, no doubt about it. Lion Heart absolutely does have the breeding, the stamina and the heart to go wire to wire. But I don't think the slightly shorter distance will help him much. I really believe that Smarty had a gear that we never saw two Saturdays ago. It is his race to win or lose. Imperialism ran a great race. I was impressed. Who can beat them...? I don't think the outcome will be dramatically affected by the pace scenario - like some strange speed duel rearranging things, or a sluggish pace, etc. In my mind, it would take a horse stepping up in a big way, and Smarty not firing for some reason. Those that may do it - Eddington (big step up), Rock Hard Ten (if all those muscles are working together), or Imperialism (small step up).
I'm not a horse-racing fan. Should I be and what to you is the compelling thing about horse-racing? I never understood this or NASCAR -- just a moving object going around in circles, but I'm willing to be convinced.
Liam Durbin: Hey, well then welcome to horseracing! Here's why... Horseracing is a spectator sport that you can wager on. So the actual unfolding of the results is exciting. Put $100 on some horse in the Preakness and see if you don't get goosebumps as they come down the stretch! If you want a rush in the Preakness, put it on Lion Heart to place. Because he will definitely lead at some point, so you will get the rush as they turn for home. Whether he stays on the lead to the wire is another matter, but you will definitely get the rush! The other reason is about handicapping itself. The more you do it, the more you get a thrill out of being RIGHT every now and then. You do your homework, study the form, make smart wagers, and when you get it right, it is a blast.
Imperialism made a solid effort in the Derby, suffered through traffic and was closing fast. Do you think that if he can avoid all the traffic, he's got a good chance on Saturday?
Liam Durbin: Yes, I do. Finishing mid-pack in the Derby is not as interesting to me as those that hit the board, for reasons other than the obvious. For example, Action This Day creeped up in the final results for the Derby and one might wonder why, because he has done so little since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But the Derby is a long race and when horses fade, they fade hard, so he passed a lot of tiring horses. But Imperialism was legitimately part of the action, and handled the traffic well. I'm a Smarty believer, but I would not fault you for putting money on Imperialism.
New to racing people:
What Liam said about horse racing is true about the excitement.
Just wager within your means.
Liam Durbin: Yes, thank you for adding that. It does not take that much money to get the thrill. I only recommended a hundred to make sure you got the E-ticket ride. Always wager with your head. You know you have a problem if you go to the track saying, "I hope I break even today, I could use the money!"
Do you think early speed will put enough pressure on Lion Heart to kick him out of the money? Also- if the track turns muddly or sloppy tomorrow will that change any of your picks? We already know SJ does well on just about any track.Thanks
Liam Durbin: I see only slightly more early speed than in the Derby. But not enough to bother Lion Heart. I believe his major threats are not from him backing up, but from the same two coming after him again, like they did in the Derby. Lion Heart always runs his race. We all know what he is going to do. The others will have to come get him. I doubt a sloppy track will change my mind on the rest.
Was Imperialism in a better position here simply because of familiarity? I know it was one reason I bet him to show, but I have absolutely no idea if it played a role in his ability to come back from 17th after the second turn to actually show.
Liam Durbin: I never give much credit to familiarity, because horses are not very bright animals (hate to say it) and they don't "know" where they are. Turns that are tight only affect horses that are tight on the turn. Imperialism ran at Churchill in just the same style as he ran in Southern California. I think he will run his race tomorrow in Maryland.
I'm a novice too. Can I bet if I go to the Infield at the Preakness?
Liam Durbin: Yes, but bet early. The lines get long, and you might succumb to the pressure to drink heavily.
Magic Weisner update:
I just found this article from Thouroughbred Times. Magic Weisner is still on the comeback trail. Hope we seem him race again!
Liam Durbin: That's great! He robbed me of some money that day, but I'm happy for him to come back.
What will Water Cannon have to do to have a chance to win? His speed figures aren't in the same league as those for Smarty Jones, but do you think the extra rest he's gotten since the Tesio, a trip over the track, not having to travel and the knowledge that three-year-olds can improve from race to race give him a chance to be competitive?
Liam Durbin: I've looked pretty hard at him and I just don't think he has the class to do it. I'm not sure if he can even hang long enough to affect the pace, where I think he will be forwardly placed. The problem with betting three year-olds in general is that they are all improving so quickly. It is a tough game to figure out who is sitting on a big race. But I can't recommend betting on him.
Liam, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
Liam Durbin: Thanks to you guys for having me! Let's hope for good weather and a safe trip for all the competitors tomorrow.
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