05/16/2009 11:12AM

Preakness Day Live


11:12 am: Wake up already. They've been racing at Pimlico for almost an hour. Only 11 races left to go.

Fast and firm so far, though it's misting now and the forecast is for possible "isolated" thunderstorms later this afternoon. Third choice Scotchontherocks ($11.60) took the opener box to wire in 1:11.69. The second, the G2 DuPont Distaff, had a field of just five after the scratches of Sea Chanter and Striking Tomisue (who were cross-entered in the G2 Shuvee at Belmont later today). That left it a cakewalk for Skylighter ($2.80), who strolled to the lead with a first quarter in 25.37 seconds and led all the way to win by 4 1/4 lengths.

With no pick-4 starting until the 5th race, I've been reduced to playing the race 2-3-4 pick-3 for $104 worth of wake-up action. I managed to smoke out Skylighter as a single:

1/2,3,5,10/2,3,5,6 @ $4 = $64

1/all/2,3,5,6 @ $1 = $40

I know, I know, it's a terrible little play. Need more coffee.

11:35 am: 13-1 firster Old Timer won the 3rd, a maiden turf race that Pimlico grandiosely billed on its signal as the "15th running of the Maryland Heritage Purse." How terrible was that pick-3 play? I'm alive to lose $20 on the #3, make $30 on the #2 and #6 (less than I would have gotten by betting the $104 to win on Skylighter at 2-5), and make $261 on #5. Let's go 5.

The first of the day's two pick-fours starts on the 5th race. Here's my ABC thinking before fine-tuning:

12:40 pm: Didn't see No Advantage ($28.40) in the G3 Schaefer, which he won by 2 3/4 lengths over dead-heaters Ea (9-5) and Real Merchant (4-1). So long $104. And so long to most of the $405 early pick-4 play, after 19-1 Motown Shuffle just won the first leg as a C with me, leaving me alive only 3x1x5 with A's the rest of the way: 3,9,11/8/1,2,3,7,9.

Allow me to share the incisive handicapping approach that led me to include Motown Shuffle: On the first pass, I had two A's, two B's, five C's and two x's. Realizing I had no conviction whatsoever, and that it would only cost another $30 to add the two x's, I upgraded my 10th and 11th choices in the field of 11 from c's to x's.

Yesterday at Pimlico: all 13 winners paid less than 4-1. Today: Four of the first five winners were more than 4-1, the last three at 13-1 or better.

Betting through the first four races totalled $3.06 million, down 7 percent from last year's $3.29 million at the same point, but pretty much even without the parimutuelly-disastrous five-horse DuPont. Here's the pool-by-pool comparison, which I'll keep at the end of this post. The biggest gainer was that first pick-3 which, perhaps aided by itchy pick-4 players like me, jumped from $79k to $113k.

1:20 pm: The 6th race, a starter-allowance for horses who have raced for a $15k tag in the last two years, is run as the Deputed Testamony Starter Stakes, and the victorious Sumacha'hot ($7.00) has a connection to the race's namesake, who won the 1983 Preakness. Deputed Testamony was bred and raised by the Boniface family's local Bonita Farm and so was Sumacha'hot -- who was claimed away for $5,000 by owner-trainer Hubert Cave last fall.

2:00 pm: Ooof. Dynaforce and my pick-4's were done turning for home, as Social Queen ($20.20) got up at the wire to nip 2-1 All is Vanity in the G3 Gallorette. No idea why the first two finishers were so far apart in price.

Next up is the G3 Hirsch Jacobs for 3-year-old sprinters, then a scheduled gap of over an hour until the late pick-4 ending with the Preakness starts with the Woodlawn at 3:44 pm. Here's the preliminary thinking:

2:45 pm: Everyday Heroes ($16.40) remained undefeated in four starts winning the Hirsch Jacobs to complete a $34,622.80 (for $2) pick-4. Rats.(Though I would have had to make a hardcore caveman 11x6x4x5 for $1320 to get the $17k.)

The pool had been guaranteed at $250k but attracted $466,330, up from $339k on last year's early pick-4, which started one race earlier.

Through the first eight races, betting is up 3.5 % from last year, at $11.9 vs. $11.5 million.

3:50 pm: Affirmatif got the job done at 2-5 in the Woodlawn Stakes but it wasn't exactly a dazzling performance, and the 3-year-old turfer hasn't looked as impressive in his last two starts as he did in his sensational Gulfstream debut. Despite a golden trip sitting third behind a strong pace, he showed only a brief turn of foot taking over in upper stretch and finished up with a moderate final quarter of 25.39. The runner-up, 34-1 Lonely Whistle, is a New York-bred who broke his maiden for $9k two starts back.

In any case, it's going to be hard to get this late pick-4 to pay $34k.

4:40 pm: Spent most of the G3 Maryland Sprint Handicap wondering why John Velazquez on Ravalo was sitting off Grand Traverse's slow pace instead of challenging him for the lead, but I guess he knew what he was doing. Ravalo took over in upper stretch and then had just enough left to turn back a resurgent Silver edition to win. The winner's time of 1:09.95 was somewhat hampered by the pace but still made Everyday Heroes's 1:09.51 look pretty good by comparison.

I've reached that point in the day where the odds are making no sense to me at all. With 8 minutes to post in In the Maryland Sprint, Sporty Boy, 30-1 on the morning line and 100-1 on mine, was only 12-1 -- this for a loser of five straight against $25k claimers, and without a line in his 24-race career suggesting he could be competitive in a graded stakes race. He finally drifted to 22-1 by post time and ran 5th, but it's still a puzzlement.

So are the current odds on my three A's in the Dixie -- Strike a Deal at 7-1, Just as Well at 9-1 and Lauro at 21-1 -- so I guess I better go get myself into some more trouble.

For three straight races now, the year-over-year betting is down sharply in all the intrarace pools but up sharply in the multirace pools.

5:30 pm: Thanks to Just as well getting second and Lauro desperately holding fourth, caught a buck of the Dixie super to pay for what's surely going to be a net loss on this chalk-chalk-chalk-Preakness pick-4. Parading ($6.60) successfully moved back from synth to turf and it's nice to see a 6-year-old who's had his problems having been given every chance to mature and blossom.

With $10 million already in the Preakness win pool, it looks like the bettors are repeating the post-Giacomo stress disorder of 2005 and refusing to let anyone in the field go off at a big price. Nobody's higher than 23-1 yet and a the three 50-1 shots on the morning line are currently 19-1, 19-1 and 20-1.

The pick-4 probables for $1: Big Drama ($170.80), Mine That Bird ($245), Musket Man ($195), Luv Gov ($3223.20), Friesan Fire ($178.70), Terrain ($979.70), Papa Clem ($265.10), General Quarters ($497.50), Pioneerof the Nile ($149.70), Flying Private ($3303.40), Take the Points ($584.20), Tone It Down ($3276.10), Rachel Alexandra ($65.10).

6:00 pm: There's already over $18 million in the win-place-show pools for the Preakness, compared to $14.3 million last year (when Big Brown was 1-to-5). Makes you wonder how much those missing infield revelers ever really bet.

7:00 pm: Good for her and good for him. Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird made the unprecedented Preakness showdown between an Oaks and Derby winner live up to and exceed all expectations with a pair of excellent performances and a clean, straightforward horse race.

I'm usually cranky about so-called feelgood stories, but it's hard not to feel good about this one. Rachel Alexandra is obviously something special, and she got the historic job done over a likeable gelding who vindicated his shocking Derby victory with another strong effort. If it weren't for the filly he'd be racing for a Triple Crown in three weeks. And good for Musket Man too. He shows up every time and ran another solid race.

Rcahel Alexandra paid $5.60, more than I expected but precisely the price predicted by DRF linemaker Mike Watchmaker, in a race where the public sent it in with gusto, betting $23 million in the straight pools vs. $14.3 million last year. The pick-4 ending with the Preakness handled $1.99 million vs. $1.39 million last year. In total, the Preakness Day handle was up a rousing 19 percent from last year, from $71.1 million to $84.3 million. 

They hoped to see something special, and historic, and they did.