05/13/2011 3:13PM

The Big Pimlico / Preakness Myth


The good news is, we hear it during the two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness more infrequently with each passing year. The bad news is, we still hear it. Of course, we’re talking about:

Pimlico is a tight-turned, speed-favoring race track.

I’m not quite sure where this ridiculousness started. In my time as a racing fan – the first Preakness I was aware of was in 1968; Dancer’s Image, who finished first in that year’s Kentucky Derby and third in that Preakness, was owned by Boston sportsman Peter Fuller, and I grew up in the immediate Boston area – I know of only one Preakness that was truly affected by a speed bias. That was the 1982 Preakness, which was run at a point in time when everything that went to the lead at Pimlico won. In that Preakness, Aloma’s Ruler went to the lead, capitalized on the profound, but, in the grand scheme of things, temporary, track bias, and turned back the odds-on Linkage.

I know why this stuff is perpetuated. Some think – very incorrectly – that saying this makes them look smart.

Anyway, this myth should have been vanquished once and for all when, a few years ago, the network that was televising the Preakness at the time took an overhead photo of Pimlico and superimposed it on an overhead photo of Churchill Downs. The result proved to everyone with eyes that Pimlico is most definitely NOT a tight-turned track. In fact, the turns at Pimlico are virtually identical in terms of circumference to the turns at Churchill, a track that has never been known as a tight-turned one.

But like people who believe America’s moon landings were staged in a Hollywood studio, there are still some who need to be convinced that Pimlico’s turns don’t make it a speed favoring track. So in the hopes of moving a step closer toward laying this nonsense to permanent rest, what follows is a list of the last 15 Preakness winners, their running positions a quarter and a half mile into the race, and their margins off the leader (or leading margin where applicable):

Lookin At Lucky 6 – 3 1/4 5 – 5
Rachel Alexandra 1 – hd 1 – hd
Big Brown 3 – 3 3 – 4
Curlin 6 – 8 1/2 7 – 13
Bernardini 3 – 2 4 – 1 1/2
Afleet Alex 10 – 9 1/4 10 – 9 1/4
Smarty Jones 2 – 1 1/2 2 – 2 1/2
Funny Cide 3 – 2 2 – 1
War Emblem 2 – hd 2 – hd
Point Given 9 – 10 6 – 7 1/2
Red Bullet 7 – 6 1/2 7 – 7
Charismatic 10 – 6 10 – 7 3/4
Real Quiet 8 – 5 1/2 6 – 9
Silver Charm 4 – 4 3 – 1 1/2
Louis Quatorze 1 – 1 1/2 1 – 2

Gee, for a track that is supposed to be speed favoring because of tight turns, to have only two of the last 15 Preakness winners be front-running winners isn’t very good. In fact, while five of the last 15 Preakness winners were running either first or second in either or both of the first two calls of the race, seven recent Preakness winners were running sixth or farther back at either the quarter or both the quarter and half mile points of call.

So, let’s finally deport “Pimlico is a tight-turned, speed-favoring track” off to hoary cliché-land, where it should join such other gems as “class is the most important factor in handicapping,” and “time only counts in jail.”