Updated on 09/15/2011 1:14PM

Don't be fooled by Preakness myths


NEW YORK - It is surprising that only about a third of the Kentucky Derby field will run back in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, and that approximately half of the field in the Preakness will consist of newcomers to the Triple Crown trail.

The new shooters in the Preakness are hoping to emulate Red Bullet, who last year won at Pimlico after skipping the Derby. But recent history tells us that the most successful route to the Preakness winner's circle is by way of Churchill Downs, and that the new faces we will see Saturday are decidedly up against it.

Of the 17 Preakness winners between 1984 and 2000, Red Bullet was the only one not to have competed in the Derby.

Based on that, one might conclude that the Preakness is an especially formful race. The Derby gives handicappers a chance to make hard comparisons between all the Triple Crown contenders.

But it turns out that the Preakness is not a piece of cake to predict. Of the 17 Preaknesses since 1984, only four, or 24 percent, were won by the favorite. Favorites have failed in the last five Preaknesses.

All but two of the last 17 Preaknesses included the Kentucky Derby winner (the exceptions were Grindstone in 1996 and Spend a Buck in 1985). So, the below-par strike rate for favorites in the Preakness brings up an interesting question: When it comes to handicapping the Preakness, does it matter how a horse ran in the Derby?

The answer, as it turns out, is not really. While most of us still have fresh in mind Derby winners Charismatic, Real Quiet, and Silver Charm repeating at Pimlico, the fact is that the 16 Preakness winners between 1984 and 1999 who ran in the Derby turned in a wide variety of performances at Churchill. Only nine finished third or better in the Derby; seven, or a healthy 44 percent, finished anywhere from fifth to 16th in the Derby.

Now let's take a look at the widely held perception that the Preakness favors inside speed horses.

I define speed as horses running either first or second, or within two lengths of the lead, in the first call of the result chart. Under these parameters, speed usually wins between 50 percent and 55 percent of the time. But, in the 11 Preaknesses between 1990 and 2000, speed won only twice for a strike rate of 18 percent. Since 1980, speed has been successful only 24 percent of the time. And only two horses in that time, Louis Quatorze in 1996 and Aloma's Ruler in 1982, won the Preakness after leading at every call.

It should be noted that, as the field stands right now, there is a relative shortage of speed in this Preakness, especially when compared with the speed in the Derby. But still . . .

As for inside runners, the rail is often the place to be at Pimlico, particularly in the days immediately preceding the Preakness. But, the inside doesn't seem to be a big factor in the Preakness itself.

Post positions are not a totally reliable barometer of an inside bias, because a speed horse who has drawn outside can quickly clear and get to the rail, and a horse who has drawn inside may find the rail blocked and be forced to go outside for racing room. But it is at least an indication. Being generous and calling the one, two, and three holes inside posts, only two of the last 11 Preakness winners broke from an inside post. They were Tabasco Cat in 1994 and Prairie Bayou the year before. The only other Preakness winner since 1990 to spend any meaningful time on the rail was Summer Squall in 1990. All of the other Preakness winners since 1990 raced away from the rail, including the front-running Louis Quatorze.

So, what kind of horse am I looking for in Saturday's Preakness? I want a horse coming out of the Derby. I want a horse who can pass horses. And I want a horse who will at least be a little bit of a price, because the Preakness has proven to be the type of race where you're supposed to take a swing against the favorite.

The key is Congaree. If he is able to deliver the same kind of effort in Baltimore as he did in Louisville, he can win. His third in the Derby was excellent considering how close he was to the suicidal pace and how he attempted to break the race open on the far turn. The fractions this Saturday don't figure to be as insane. The feeling here is Congaree has another big race in him. There is no obligation to run him in the Preakness, but he's running anyway, and that is taken as a sign of confidence. Congaree can rate effectively off the pace, and he should be no lower than third choice behind Monarchos and Point Given.