This year’s Preakness Stakes has just a modest nine-horse field, and the odds are dominated by a few horses. Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter is the obvious favorite at the second leg of the Triple Crown, yet his expected short price by post time makes it difficult to include him at the top of any exotic wager such as the trifecta or superfecta. It is also too risky to leave him completely off your ticket, forcing us to go lean and not allow our tickets to get bloated with too many horses.
A trifecta ticket — picking the first three finishers in the correct order — can be made for as low as 50 cents, while a Preakness superfecta ticket — picking the first four finishers in order — can be put together for just 10 cents. That allows for more horses to be included in hopes of scoring a big payout. And lately, there have been some monster payouts. Last year’s superfecta paid $102.55 on a 10-cent ticket, even with two short-priced horses in the second and third spots. The year before, the superfecta paid $505.30, with the favorite coming in second.
To determine which horses to use in our exotics bets for Saturday’s race at Pimlico, we first must estimate and examine the projected pace of the race. That requires classifying the field into four broad running styles, with the horses listed in order of how close to the front they project to be at the half-mile marker.
Front-runners are horses whose best performances are run on the lead. Stalkers are content to sit two to three lengths off the pace before making a move for the front. Pressers like to run in the middle of the pack before contesting the race. Closers are usually found behind the first and second flight of horses, conserving their energy for a late kick entering the stretch.
Since 2012, when the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system was implemented, horses coming off the pace (stalkers and pressers) have won six of the seven Preakness races contested on a fast track, including five in a row. Just one front runner, Oxbow in 2013, hit the wire first. That means we can discount Early Voting, Armagnac and Fenwick, at least for the win. Armagnac and Fenwick are also outclassed by Early Voting and both should wilt to the early pressure and become non-factors by the end.
Epicenter will certainly be close to the lead, as should Simplification, whose recent performances have been a lot better than they look on paper. Skippylongstocking will likely be a little further back behind those two and should save ground on the turn, keeping him in contention for a board hit. As for the three pressers — Happy Jack, Secret Oath and Creative Minister — they might be too far back at the half-mile marker to grab first or second place but surely should be considered for the third and fourth place spots in a small field. Feel free to focus on Secret Oath and Creative Minister, whose speed figures both overall and during the last quarter mile of recent races are superior to those of Happy Jack.
Keep in mind a large majority of exotic tickets are going to feature Epicenter. If he wins or comes in second, the payoffs are not going to be robust. To get maximum value from a trifecta or superfecta ticket you are better off forgoing him to win altogether, and if you want to use him in the place (second) spot then you need to select a big price to come in first to offset his presence. You could, of course, leave Epicenter off your tickets completely and hope he doesn’t finish in the top three, but that’s unlikely.
With that in mind, here’s how I would construct trifecta and superfecta tickets.
Trifecta betting strategy
Minimum bet is 50 cents
1 with 5,8,9 with 2,4,5,8,9
9 with 1 with 1,2,4,5,8,9
9 with 5,8,9 with 1
Superfecta betting strategy
Minimum bet is 10 cents
1 with 5,8,9 with 4,5,8,9 with ALL
9 with 1 with 4,5,8,9 with ALL
9 with 5 with 1 with ALL