05/14/2014 12:46PM

At Pimlico, inside not the place to be


BALTIMORE – A first-time starter named Segovia accomplished something remarkable at Pimlico in the fifth race May 2. Segovia, last at the first call, rallied along the rail to win going away. And that was the remarkable part. Segovia remains the only horse this May to close along the rail and win at Pimlico.

For most of this month, outside paths have ruled a slow-playing main track, a trend that extends beyond the current meet. Recall talk of how Kentucky Derby winner Orb got bogged down on a dead rail in the 2013 Preakness. Departing was stuck there, too, and his subsequent performances proved him better than his sixth-place Preakness finish.

Even with several out-of-the-blue front-end winners last Sunday, early leaders and pressers have won only 21 main-track races this month, compared with 41 for stalkers and closers. During the same period, horses racing along the rail have won 18 races, two-wide winners 4, three-wide winners 18, and horses four paths and wider 21. That’s 39 of 61 wins for horses at least three wide, and outside stalkers have ruled this month.

David Whitman, the director of track maintenance at Pimlico and nearby Laurel Park, thinks the main track has played fair but concedes that the inside paths can be more tiring.

“On the turns is where it can get deep,” said Whitman, who has helped work the Pimlico surface for 30 years. “The turns are banked so much, the far turn especially so. Material can slide down toward the inside.”

::DRF Live: Reporting and insight from the Preakness draw 6-7 p.m. ET on Wednesday

Pimlico, like Churchill, is a one-mile oval. For years, the myth propagated that Pimlico’s turns were tighter than Churchill’s, but that’s incorrect: The Churchill homestretch is about 27 yards longer, meaning the Pimlico turns must be longer. It’s steep banking that distinguishes the Pimlico turns.

Being stuck down on the fence with rivals rising up outside, all the while encountering deeper going, renders undesirable the shortest path around the Pimlico oval, a fact reflected in the relative success of post positions. At the ongoing meet, posts 3-7 have been the sweet spot in routes, almost all of which have been contested at 1 1/16 miles.

Taking a longer view, an inside draw has spelled doom at the Preakness’s 1 3/16-mile trip. In the last 10 years, posts 1 and 2 have combined to go 0 for 34 at the distance; by comparison, posts 12 and 13 are 2 for 8.

Since 2011, posts 1-4 have produced no winners from 20 starters at the Preakness trip, while posts 5-9 are 5 for 22.

So, find a contender drawn from the middle out who can take up a clear stalking position. The track profile says you’ve found a winner.