There are several concepts unique to the race that have to be taken into account when handicapping the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown. Obviously these alone won't get the job done, and particularly since the field won't be set until the week before the race. That notwithstanding, once the field is announced it's important to evaluate all of the entries not only as you would any other race but with the following concepts in mind:
The Preakness Stakes is run over a distance of a mile and 3/16, meaning that it's actually a little bit shorter than the Kentucky Derby which precedes it by two weeks. That means that there's not much of a question about Preakness entrants' ability to handle this distance. That's a serious concern for the third leg of the Triple Crown-the Belmont-which is contested over a mile and a half.
Most three year olds of the class to be considered for entry into the Kentucky Derby or Preakness will have had previous experience at the distance in their prep campaign earlier in the spring. While the Belmont distance is such that early speed has a difficult time prevailing in the Triple Crown's final leg, a top level speedster can occasionally set a fast pace and win in the Preakness Stakes.
One of the most significant reasons that winning the Triple Crown is such a rare event is the grueling schedule of the three races. While the ideal layoff between races varies from horse to horse, most high level equine competitors race fewer than 10 times per year. In most cases, thoroughbreds seldom race without a break of three weeks to a month. For a Triple Crown aspirant, however, it's necessary to win three very competitive races in a five week span. There is a two week gap between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, with three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont.
In recent years there has been a trend away from horses running in all three legs unless they're in contention for the Triple Crown. The most common scenario is for a horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, skip the Preakness, and run in the Belmont though other combinations also occur. For this reason, it's worth giving special consideration to `rested' horses. In addition, it's helpful to take a look at a horse's past performances and see what his typical turnaround time between races is and how he's fared when undertaking a heavy schedule.
The turnaround from the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness is especially brutal, with only two weeks between races. Factor in logistical concerns such as shipping the horse from Kentucky to Maryland, getting him acclimated in his new surroundings and getting him out for some work on the track at Pimlico and it takes a special quality of competitor to be up to these demands. For that reason it's important to be on the lookout for a horse that skipped the Derby and particularly one with experience on the Pimlico track.
As anyone who watched the 2013 Kentucky Derby can attest, weather can be crucial to the outcome of a race. As a species, horses are very sensitive to the conditions in which they run and the surfaces they run on. On balance, most owners and trainers try to avoid racing a promising young horse in inclement weather or on a sloppy track. If the weather at a racetrack becomes particularly bad you'll see a number of `late scratches' for this reason. A Triple Crown race like the Belmont is a different matter and unless a horse's connections have a reason to fear for his safety due to the elements or track conditions they usually makes the start.
If there is a chance for bad weather and/or an off track it's essential to consider that when handicapping the race. One good measure of a horse's ability in this type of race can be found with a quick look at his past performances. If a young horse has *any* experience on a muddy or sloppy track that's a good indication that his connections have confidence in his abilities in these circumstances. Most promising three year olds are brought along cautiously, and had there been a concern about the ability to perform in substandard conditions it's unlikely they would have competed in it in the first place.
Another predictive component of a horse's ability to run on a less than perfect track is past experience on turf and, to a lesser extent, synthetic surfaces. Turf is more yielding than dirt, so there are some similarities between it and a muddy track. In any case, experience on any surface other than dirt is a positive as it indicates an ability to adapt and perform on a variety of track types.
Finally, a horse's pedigree can also indicate whether or not he'll perform well in substandard track conditions. Like so many other competitive traits, you'll frequently see horses that do well in mud produce offspring that also perform well in the slop.
In theory, the horses who draw the inside post positions have an advantage over the ones to the outside in any race. At Pimlico, however, there's a historically demonstrated bias to horses that can run well on the rail. There's been a number of theories for why racing near the rail is so valuable at Pimlico, from firmer dirt to an advantage in the tight turns. Whatever the reason, it's something to pay attention to. Only one horse-Rachel Alexandra in2009-has won the Preakness from the outside post position.
Use the links below to learn more about the third leg of the `Triple Crown of Horse Racing'