This year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve served as a reminder for racing fans and handicappers that the ability to race well on a wet racetrack (often referred to as an off track) can be a key factor in classic success.
Justify, who had won his only previous race on a wet track, turned in a dominant 2 ½-length win on a sloppy track in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Weather forecasts indicate Saturday's Preakness Stakes will be run on a wet Pimlico Race Course track as well. Before we delve into the expected runners for this year’s field, it’s important to remember that all racetracks drain differently — some main tracks are better suited and/or designed than others to accommodate a deluge of rain — and each track has its own crew that works to make the surface the best it can be on race day.
Dirt racetracks are typically rated “fast,” meaning the surface is dry and even. Rain changes things and there is a significant difference when it comes to how much water a racetrack has absorbed with the three main ratings for the track being good, muddy, and sloppy.
Good: A dirt track that is almost fast.
Muddy: Racetrack is wet but with no standing water.
Sloppy: Racing surface that is saturated with water and has standing water visible.
Muddy and sloppy tracks are often sealed, which essentially means they are packed down to force water to run off the track rather than be absorbed, to create a safe, even surface.
Past success on a wet racetrack should serve as the first indicator that a runner will perform well under similar conditions and several of the expected Preakness runners have experience on an off track.
Let’s start with Derby victor Justify. He won the first jewel of the Triple Crown under a historic deluge that dumped a record-setting 3.15 inches of rain on Churchill Downs on Derby day. He also won by 6 ½ lengths on a muddy track in his second start in March at Santa Anita Park. There is no doubt that Justify can handle moisture in the racetrack, but I do still think he is even better on a fast track.
Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic raced on a wet track for the first time in the Kentucky Derby and finished second by 2 ½ lengths. His sire, Curlin, was a monster on a sloppy track, winning the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2008 Jockey Club Gold Cup in the slop.
Lone Sailor earned his first career win by 11 lengths on a sloppy track in September 2017 at Saratoga in a race that was rained off the grass. He ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Tom Amoss thought that was because he was stopped in traffic not because of the racetrack.
Bravazo made his first start on a wet track when sixth in the Kentucky Derby, beaten by eight lengths by Justify. His jockey in the Derby, Luis Contreras, said, “I was surprised how good he handled the sloppy track.” New rider Luis Saez will be aboard in the Preakness.
Sporting Chance is the most experienced of the Preakness runners on wet racetracks with a win, one third, and one unplaced finish in three attempts. He turned in a career-best performance when winning the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on a track rated as good in September 2017 then finished third, beaten by seven lengths, in his next start on a muddy track in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. Most recently, Sporting Chance finished fourth, beaten by eight lengths, in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile Stakes presented by LG and E and KU on the sloppy main track at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
None of the other three expected Preakness runners — Quip, Tenfold, and Diamond King — has a start on a wet track. Especially in these instances, pedigree can be a key component in determining whether or not a racehorse should excel on a wet track.
The Tomlinson Ratings in the Daily Racing Form provide insight into horses that might run well on a wet track based on pedigree. A Tomlinson Rating of 320 or higher means a horse deserves consideration while a 400 or higher is considered extremely strong. These numbers are especially useful with first-time starters or horses who haven’t run on an off or wet racetrack previously, and as you'll see below most of these Preakness runners should relish a wet track.
Preakness Runner (Tomlinson rating)
Sporting Chance (439)
Good Magic (409)
Diamond King (401)
Lone Sailor (393)