Duke Botsford stopped by to see me during his lobster trick "lunch" break Monday morning. Duke is a printer, but he used to own racehorses, and has had a lifelong interest in racing.
"Did you go to the Preakness?" Duke asked.
"No," I said. "I just can't get very excited about going all the way to Balmer to bet on an odds-on favorite."
"You could have gotten rich betting the favorites at Pimlico on Preakness Day," Duke said. "The favorites were nine for nine. A clean sweep. I'll betcha it's been a long time since favorites swept the card at a major racetrack. In fact, it may never have happened before. I've certainly never heard of it."
"You're saying all nine races were won by the betting favorite?" I asked. "I didn't see that mentioned in any of the stories I read."
"I wasn't mentioned," Duke said. "But it happened. You can look it up. Anybody who parlayed the nine of them would have needed a wheelbarrow to take home his winnings."
I reached for a Sunday sports section and checked the Pimlico charts. When I finished, Duke said, "Well?"
"You may be right," I said, "and then again, technically you may not be. In eight races out of the nine, the winner was the betting favorite, as you said. However, the winner of the third race went off at 2 to 1, but so did one of the losing horses, so - technically, at least - the winner of the third race was the co-favorite rather than 'the' favorite".
"Even at that," Duke said, "I've never seen the like of it."
"Neither have I," I said. "And now you have me wondering whether the winners were all chalk horses that figured to win on class, or whether some of them were sleepers that were rated at longer odds in the morning line but were bet down to favoritism by the smart money. Derby Day and Preakness Day are always tempting occasions for betting coups, you know, becasue there's so much money in the mutuel pools. The question is, did the horses run to from on Preakness Day, or was the smart money cashing some big bets?"
"We could look that up, too," Duke suggested. "Get a Saturday morning sports section and see what Clem Florio's picks were. He's a no-nonsense handicapper, and he always puts the class horse on top."
So we dug out Florio's selections for Saturday and found that his top horse had won in the first, second, third, fifth, seventh and eight races. In the fourth, Florio's top choice finished third and his second choice was the winner. In the sixth, he missed completely. In the ninth, his second choice was the winner,his first choice finished second. And that gave us our answer. Eight of the nine winners had been horses that a sound handicapper could have called "the class of the race."
However, there is less here than meets the eye. If you are a racetrack novice who deduces from the foregoing that betting on favorites at Pimlico is an easy way to get rich, take heed: You can beat a race, but you can't beat the races. What happened on Preakness Day was a freak, and you are not likely to live long enough to see it happen again. Go to the racetrack if you must, my friend, but don't bother to takea wheelbarrow with you.