05/09/2012 12:23PM

New Shooters in the Preakness

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If you want to start searching for the Preakness winner, the best place to look is the Kentucky Derby.

This is not just a feeling or a suspicion. The numbers strongly back this up.

In looking back at the last 15 Preaknesses, from 1997 through 2011, only three, or just 20%, were won by horses who did not start in the Kentucky Derby. Those winners were Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Bernardini in 2006, and Red Bullet in 2000.

(As an aside, I focused on the last 15 Preaknesses because I thought it was a reasonable dividing point in terms of representing the changes in the way the modern thoroughbred is trained and raced. However, it must be noted that every one of the 13 Preakness winners prior to 1997 raced in the Derby.)

Anyway, even when you take into account that the horses who race in the Kentucky Derby are ostensibly the best of their generation and thus should do better in the Preakness than those who didn’t race in the Derby, the fact that new shooters won only three of the last 15 the Preaknesses still seems low. But when you dig a little deeper, the numbers get even worse.

There were a total of 168 starters in the last 15 Preaknesses. Of those, 91, or 54%, were new shooters who did not start in the Kentucky Derby. Without question, many of those newcomers to the Triple Crown were no hopers. But there were many overmatched Preakness starters who also started in the Derby, too. The point is, while new shooters accounted for more than half of the last 15 Preakness fields, as a group, they had a success rate of 3%. The 77 horses who previously ran in the Derby and who, as a group, accounted for 12 of the last 15 Preaknesses had a group success rate of almost 16%.

In other words, irrespective of odds, horses who came out of the Derby in the last 15 years were five times as likely to be more successful in the Preakness than horses who didn’t start in the Derby.

In looking back on this, I was surprised that more than half of the starters in the last 15 Preaknesses were new shooters. A couple of other surprising points: The recent Preakness with the highest percentage of newcomers was in 2008, when 10 of the 12 starters, or 83%, were new shooters. I guess Big Brown scared off a lot of the horses who futilely chased him home in that year’s Derby. The recent Preakness with the lowest percentage of newcomers was in 1999, when only three of the 13 starters, or 23%, were new shooters. It would seem those who chased Charismatic home in that year’s Derby were skeptical he could win again and were eager to take another shot.