Has the Preakness Become the Tougher Jewel to Win?

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D.S. Williamson

May 13th, 2018

For years, in the 1980's and 1990's, the Kentucky Derby appeared to be the hardest of the three Triple Crown races to win. Favorites languished in the Kentucky Derby. It took forever for a favorite to win the Derby. Then, when a favorite won the Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, it took for what seemed like forever again for the favorite to win the Derby.

But, since 2013, the favorite has now won the Kentucky Derby six years in a row. That's flat out crazy. Has the Preakness favorite won the race 5 years in a row? Nope. Not even close.

Has the Preakness Become the Tougher Jewel to Win?

There's no doubt that the Preakness Stakes has become a difficult race to win. Although California Chrome won the Preakness as a favorite in 2014, and American Pharoah won the Preakness in 2015 as the favorite, Oxbow in 2013, Exaggerator in 2016, and Cloud Computing in 2017 all won the Preakness without being the favorites.

Exaggerator figured. Oxbow, who's Preakness victory I've added above, and Cloud Computing didn't. Why? I dig deeper.

It Takes a Special Horse to Win the Derby and Then Come Back and Win the Preakness

Only extremely talented horses like American Pharoah and California Chrome can win the Kentucky Derby and then take the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. Pharoah won the Triple Crown. Chrome, with an easier trip, might have won the Belmont Stakes, which would have made him a Triple Crown winner.

Orb was a nice horse. He wasn't on the level of either American Pharoah or California Chrome. Neither was Nyquist although it should be noted that Nyquist had already raced 8 times in his short career before taking on Exaggerator, again, in the Preakness Stakes. He was probably tired by the time he entered the Preakness gates.

Good Horses Now Point to the Preakness Stakes

Good horses have always pointed towards the Preakness. Red Bullet beat Fusachi Pegasus in 2000 and he didn't run in the Kentucky Derby. But, the trend might have taken a leap last year when trainer Chad Brown decided to skip the Derby with Cloud Computing to try for the Preakness Stakes. Cloud Computing beat Classic Empire to win the Preakness.

This year, Quip skipped the Derby to point towards the Preakness. Will it pay off? It could. Quip certainly has a better shot of winning the Preakness Stakes on May 19 then he would have of winning the Kentucky Derby.  The extra two weeks of rest, as well as maturity, could have turned Quip into a much better horse than the one that Magnum Moon trounced in the Arkansas Derby.

It's Impossible for a Horse to Be Familiar With Pimlico

It feels like Pimlico only exists to run the Preakness Stakes. Pimlico has a 12 race meet in May. The highlight of the meet is always Preakness Day. Are there any other highlights? Nope. Nada. It's impossible for a 3-year-old horse to get to know Pimlico. The reason is because they can't ship in early enough, or have enough works, to determine how they'll fair around Pimlico's ridiculously tight turns.

That's why horses close to the lead often run well in the Preakness Stakes. Horses often ship early to Churchill Downs to prepare for the Kentucky Derby. Even if they don't ship early, it seems easier for horses to familiarize themselves with Churchill Downs.

Jockeys that ride Derby entrants most definitely know Churchill Downs. Jockeys don't really know Pimlico, though.  That's another reason horses don't always run their best in the Preakness.

Who knows? I could be wrong. Justify could run like a 1/5 shot and put a serious beat down on his Preakness Stakes competition, just like he did on the First Saturday in May. Recent history suggests that won't be the case, though.