Let's take a look back at the Preakness. We do this not to be ghoulish -- though the way our predictions went, we could put a picture of Bela Lugosi here -- but to try to comprehend what happened, for both sporting and parimutuel purposes.
We'll start with the obvious: War of Will showed that he's a top-notch horse, and that the interference from Maximum Security in the Derby probably did affect him significantly. This horse has shown talent all spring -- he was good enough to be the 4/5 favorite in the Louisiana Derby -- and it was good to see him get a clean trip and show what he is capable of. We'd love it if he could run in the Belmont against Maximum Security, but barring a miracle, that will not happen.
Here are our other thoughts about the race, and how we handicapped it.
The betting in the race was crazy, and the only logical explanation for it is all the once-a-year bettors throwing their irrational money into the pools. As has become common in Triple Crown races, long shots sand sentimental horses were absurdly overbet. The odds on some of these horses defied comprehension: 20-1 on Bodexpress, who had never won a race, and was still eligible for a 3-year-old maiden special? 13-1 on Win Win Win, who was vastly inferior to the other horses coming out of the Derby? And while I understand the appeal of Alwaysmining, who was the local horse and a sentimental favorite, 6-1 on him was the biggest underlay since Goliath.
With all these horses being overbet, there had to be horses who were underbet, and sure enough, War of Will was the biggest runner the punters overlooked. Look at it this way: War of Will had been on the Derby trail since January, had won races at the highest competitive level, had been competing against the best horses in the country, was odds-on in one of the top Derby prep races -- and his final odds were 6.1-1. Alwaysmining, who had never even started in a graded stakes race, and whose main achievement was beating a bunch of tomato cans in the Federico Tesio at Laurel, was 6.6-1. With all the sucker money that goes into the pools of these Triple Crown races, it usually pays to be a contrarian, and to bet against all the uninformed money. That was certainly the case on Saturday.
War of Will, according to the Beyer boys at Daily Racing Form, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99 winning the Preakness. This is in line with the final time and the way the main track at Pimilico was playing Saturday. It is also in line with War of Will's race record: he ran a 94 in the Risen Star and a 90 in the LeComte, so while his Preakness win was a new career high, it was not a huge leap from his prior best.
While War of Will's effort is entirely credible in the context of his prior races, Everfast's is not. He finished 1 1/4 lengths behind War of Will, which on the Beyer scale equates to a Beyer Speed figure of 96. This is a very nearly incomprehensible jump for a horse whose last two Beyers were in the 70s, and the race prior was in the 60s. But Everfast did run an 83 in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream in February, the pace shape of the race favored him, and last, and perhaps most important, 3-year-olds this time of year are capable of giant improvements that are impossible to see in advance. Every year, it seems, there's a horse who hits the board in a Triple Crown race, at enormous odds, by showing enormous improvement from his prior form. This year, it was Everfast. History suggests that these horses are flashes in the pan -- do you remember what happened to Invisible Ink or Closing Argument? Me neither! -- but time will tell what happens to Everfast.
Once again, the "new shooter" angle in the Preakness went down in flames. The winner was a horse coming out of the Derby, and that was despite the fact that only four of the thirteen entrants ran in the Derby, a number that was reduced to three after Bodexpress threw his rider right after the gates opened. There will probably come a time when playing against the returning Derby starters is the smart move, but that time has not yet come. Until it does, we will be dismissive of horses running in Baltimore who did not run in Louisville.
We still think that, our pick, Improbable, is a talented colt, but his effort was dull on Saturday. He might have blown his energy rearing in the starting gate, or it might have been that the rigors of the Triple Crown trail finally caught up with him, but while he didn't embarrass himself Saturday, he did not look like the same horse he did earlier in the year. He will presumably get some time off and come back later in the summer, and we'll see then whether he really is good, or whether he only looked good because he was running against a weak group.
While we're on this subject, this year's crop of 3-year-olds does look subpar, especially compared to those of recent years.
We went back and took a look at our analysis of race, and we feel that we got a lot right: we predicted the pace largely correctly; we identified the non-contenders correctly, and we included War of Will in the group of three horses we thought had a chance to win the race. We expected the race to be won with a stalker making a winning move at the top of the stretch -- but we thought that horse would be Improbable, and it was War of Will. That was the incorrect pick. But looking back at our Saturday morning post, we still feel like we got more right than wrong -- except for picking the winner, which is obviously the most important thing.
We'll close with one more note. This year, there will not be a Triple Crown winner, nor will there even be a horse attempting to win the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes. While this may be disappointing to those who watch three horse races a year, it may be an opportunity for the more seasoned handicappers, as in recent years, the result of the Belmont Stakes has tended to be more chaotic when different horses have won the Derby and the Preakness. We will take a closer look at this during Belmont week, but it's worth keeping in mind as the Belmont field begins to take shape in the coming days.