05/07/2013 12:13PM

Pimlico tight-turned and speed-favoring? Nope

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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.