05/07/2013 12:13PM

Pimlico tight-turned and speed-favoring? Nope


Kentucky Derby winner Orb is, as we all know, a closer. So it is my fear that in the run up to the Preakness Stakes, we are going to be subjected to a “discussion” as to whether Orb can overcome the tight-turned, speed-favoring nature of Pimlico Race Course.

Here’s a tip: If you hear anyone – commentator, horseman, fellow handicapper, or guy babbling under the tv at your favorite simulcasting emporium – say Pimlico is a tight-turned track, you can be certain that, at least in this case, they don’t know what they are talking about.

Several years ago, a national television network took an aerial photograph of Pimlico and superimposed it over an aerial photo of Churchill Downs, a track that has never been known for being a tight-turned one. Guess what? The photo comparison showed that the turns at Pimlico are virtually identical in circumference to the turns at Churchill. This should have right then and there slayed this myth about Pimlico, but apparently, old wives tales die hard.

As for Pimlico being a speed-favoring track, any track can go through periods of being speed-favoring due to weather conditions or track maintenance. But in the specific context of the Preakness, Pimlico being speed-favoring is also just not true.

Below is a chart I constructed for the last 15 Preaknesses. It’s pretty self explanatory. We have the year, the winner, field size of that Preakness, where the winner was racing in the first call of the result chart (a quarter mile into the race) and the lengths he or she was behind or ahead, and where the winner was in the second call (a half mile into the race), and again the margin behind or ahead.

Year Winner Field Size 1st Call (1/4 m) 2nd Call (1/2 m)
2012 I'll Have Another 11 4th by 2 1/2 4th by 3 1/2
2011 Shackleford 14 2nd by 1/2 2nd by 1/2
2010 Lookin At Lucky 12 6th by 3 1/4 5th by 5
2009 Rachel Alexandra 13 1st by a head 1st by a head
2008 Big Brown 12 3rd by 3 3rd by 4
2007 Curlin 9 6th by 8 1/2 7th by 13
2006 Bernardini 9 3rd by 2 4th by 1 1/2
2005 Afleet Alex 14 10th by 9 1/4 10th by 7 1/4
2004 Smarty Jones 10 2nd by 1 1/2 2nd by 2 1/2
2003 Funny Cide 10 3rd by 2 2nd by 1
2002 War Emblem 13 2nd by a head 2nd by a head
2001 Point Given 11 9th by 10 6th by 7 1/2
2000 Red Bullet 8 7th by 6 1/2 7th by 7
1999 Charismatic 13 10th by 6 10th by 8 3/4
1998 Real Quiet 10 8th by 5 1/2 6th by 9

So the facts show only one of the last 15 Preaknesses was won by a front-runner, that being Rachel Alexandra. You have to go back to Louis Quatorze in 1996 to find the last to win the Preakness in front-running fashion before Rachel Alexandra. Moreover, only two other Preaknesses of the last 15 were won by horses legitimately right with the early lead, War Emblem and Shackleford. If you want to count them as speed winners, go right ahead. That means only three of the last 15 Preaknesses were won by speed horses, and that’s a pretty feeble success rate on a track that is supposed to be so speed favoring.

Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Orb has been able to win from the far outside post position, from the rail position, and anywhere in between. He has won with fast pace, slow pace, or no pace. He makes his own "trip". His ability to circle horses keeps him out of trouble, and he has that kick at the end that says he will not be denied. I'm thinking that Orb really is "the one" this year. Anyway, sure will be fun to watch and ride the roller coaster with him and his connections. I just don't see any horse in the field with Orb's class. Anything can always happen, of course, but barring mishap or injury, I think it's Orb all the way.
Sean O More than 1 year ago
The handicapping angle for the Preakness is that the best horse always wins. Going back to Point Given, the best horse in the field won every year except for 2011 (tossing out 2006). And it's not like Shackleford was a bad horse.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
Why do public handicappers feel the need to write a book explainingwhy they like a 7/5 favorite? The only thing they should be saying is "this is a 4/5 shot that you may get 7/5 on so bet with both hands".....otherwise who cares? The whole world saw Orb demolish the field at Churchill, thats a great thing if you are a handicapper because that may mean overlay elsewhere. Question if Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents skipped the Derby what odds would they be in Preakness? At 4-1 Saturday, no one should care about these 2, at 6-1 they are interesting, at the supposed Watchmaker line either is a great bet in my opinion
Bob Fritz More than 1 year ago
The pace is more important than the nature of the track itself. I would argue that the Preakness is actually the Triple Crown race that's most likely to favor closers. They don't have to fight through a huge field as in the Derby, and, since several speed horses usually run in the Preakness, there's a faster pace, which helps the closers. Speed horses aren't entered in the Belmont because their connections are scared off by the distance, which, ironically, helps whatever speed horses remain in the race.
Tee Jay More than 1 year ago
Call it boys and girls but don't go buyin' no pig in a poke or sight unseen. These ponies got to go round the ring n' walk on the track and sumpin' might go wishy washy on ya with those fat ducats already sittin' in yur pocket. What's the forecast? Blizzard, thunderstorm or heat wave? They ain't got no ducks in a pond do they? Seagulls cruising around? Ya gotta see it the way a horse sees it - 360 degrees baby - like eyes in the back of the head. Load up late n' go out on a date.
NJHorseplayer More than 1 year ago
I'd almost prefer to see the 1/4- and 1/2-mile splits along with where the horse was positioned at the first 2 calls. Were the few that came on from way back running into a 45-second 1st half as opposed to those more forwardly placed, say running into slower fractions?
John Pisiona More than 1 year ago
Good logic. However a derby horse that tired late on the lead does have a better shot third Sat. In May, RE, Shackleford
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
one of the earlier posters noted Orb ran a 1/16 of a mile farther than his foes in the Derby - pretty impressive stuff. and what he will face in the Preakness looks like less than what he faced in the Derby - even with the new shooters. so Orb is the most likely winner - but what, if anything, could get him beat? well I remember when Fusaichi Pegassus lost to Red Bullet in the Preakness (and he was less than even money) and what seemed to be the issue was the track. some horses do not care for this surface especially if it is good drying out, it seems like it can be kind of a tacky, sticky surface. Orb has shown the ability to run on a number of tracks - and there is no particular reason to think he won't like Pimlico - and I think if he does get beat it will because he did not care for the strip. honest guess - Orb will win this next leg for fun and we'll have 3 more weeks to wait and debate and see if history can be made..
jay More than 1 year ago
I think the Trakus stats for distance run can be totally misleading. For instance, if the inside rail is dead, then horses running in the center or outside part of the track will have an advantage even though they have to run further. Also, horses running inside tend to have more troubled trips, which again negates the advantage of running a shorter distance. Trakus data is like any other information such as Beyer numbers, breeding, or trainer stats that are just part of the puzzle when handicapping a race.
kc m More than 1 year ago
intra-track variants and traffic are completely different arguments than total distance run--trackus and thorograph stats for distance run are not misleading. how you choose to weight distance run in terms of other factors, is a whole different matter. in any case, the rail was lively on derby day--the 2nd and 3rd placed finishers both raced on the rail for the majority of the race, and calvin said point blank that when he asked, revolutionary didn't have anything left. and the only horse with a legitimate traffic issue that seriously compromised his race was will take charge. anywho, even if you discount it, distance run is never irrelevant. regardless of intra-track variant, a horse that can't get 10f, isn't going to magically get 10f in a winning time, because he runs more than 10f in a different part of the track. orb won on saturday because his average speed was a mile per hour faster than any other horse in the race. and arch showed that a horse on the lead, who can stay for 10f, even if slowing with every step, will always have the advantage over a horse making up a double digit deficit. especially if that horse has to run a longer race to make up that deficit. had he had an inside trip, orb would have beaten golden soul by by over 9 lengths and revolutionary by over 10 lengths--and we would even be having this discussion--he would be heralded as a super horse.
Sam More than 1 year ago
Why does a lot of folks say Orb is a "come from behind" colt? I call him a forwardly placed colt. Yes, that may be true in the Derby where there were nineteen entrants and he's in the16th pole and that race changes a lot of styles.. But, in his previous four races, he was - at the 1/2 mile [2C] [F=field] - 5th [F10]; 5th [F9]; 3rd [F7]; and 2nd [F7]
Sam More than 1 year ago
Excellent and informative article, Mike. Which reminds me. I, and I'm sure many others, get our racing info from this website. I just now learned where the 1C and 2C distances are. So, why don't you run a weekly article answering questions about racing which, like your Derby Watch, would appear on a certain day? I think many of us would appreciate it.