Deciphering the Preakness Stakes Betting Puzzle

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

What a difference two weeks can make. Some 14 days after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve offers the best wagering value of the year, the Preakness Stakes offers a completely different puzzle.

At the Derby, with 19 or 20 horses in the field, you will generally be rewarded quite handsomely for selecting the right horse. In the Preakness, it’s easier to pick a winner, but harder to turn a profit. While the Derby had six straight winning favorites until two weeks ago, the Preakness offers an extremely chalky race with a smaller field and inherently small payoffs.

As proof, in the last 18 runnings of the Preakness there were 10 winning favorites and 14 victorious first and second wagering choices.

Now that doesn’t mean that wagering opportunities have come and gone. You just have to focus on the right angles. For instance, at last year’s Preakness, if you played the sequence or horizontal wagers ending in the Preakness, you were probably disappointed, even if you cashed.

The problem was that not only did eventual Triple Crown champion Justify prevail at 2-5 odds ($2.80) in the Preakness, but in the two races before the second jewel in the Triple Crown, the winners paid $3.20 and $4.

As a result, the daily double with winners paying $2.80 and $3.20 returned $4.60 for a $2 bet. The Pick 3 with a $4 winner tacked on paid $15 for $2. Considering that the parlay of those three winners was about $10, that $15 price wasn’t bad, but it’s chalky nonetheless.

The Pick 4, with a $7.80 winner starting the sequence, finally offered a nice payoff of $87.60 for $2, which wasn’t bad for three favorites paying $4 or less and a second choice.

The Pick 5, with a $5.40 second choice injected into the mix, paid an even more attractive $339.40 for $2. In that instance, singling Justify and using the top two betting choices in the other four races, a 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 1 ticket, would have cost $32 and resulted in $307.40 in profit.

While there will not be an odds-on favorite in this year’s Preakness, history shows that you can probably add an extra leg or two to your sequence wagers by using one or two horses from the Preakness and playing an additional horse or two in the other legs.

Conversely, if you like vertical wagers, the 2018 Preakness was the race for you. While Justify was victorious, behind him came horses at 15.30-1 and 26.10-1 for a $27.50 exacta and a $296.60 trifecta, both for $2. Both of those were quite acceptable payoffs with a $2.80 winner on top.

Even the $2 superfecta, with 3.90-1 second choice Good Magic fourth, came back a robust $745.

So, yes, there is wagering value out there. It’s just harder to find than someone with no opinion on the disqualification in the Kentucky Derby.

As an overview, if you like the favorite in the Preakness, do your handicapping homework and then decide whether there’s a better chance of a longshot winning one or more of the races before the Preakness or a horse/horses at long odds completing the order of finish in the Preakness and structure your bets accordingly.

There’s some risk attached, as you might zig when you should zag, but taking a stand is the name of the game in gambling where sometimes what matters most is not who you bet on but how you wager on them.

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