Saturday, May 19, 2018

2018 Preakness Pick: Justify

Brushing the egg off my face after Goodonehoney flopped in the Black Eyed Susan on Friday and cost $50, "finding value" is the key to a Preakness Stakes where muddy conditions and a so-so field are all that stands between Justify having a shot at the Triple Crown.

A lot of people love to knock the champ.

"The Kentucky Derby was too grueling."

"Horse hasn't had a published workout since."

"He'll be too tired in the stretch and be gassed."

I'm not buying it.

Justify will win the 2018 Preakness.

Question is, how can I profit meaningfully in a race where the winner is going to pay 40-50 cents on the dollar?

The key, to me, is taking a stand against second-choice Good Magic, listed at 5-2 but will take a lot of late action and may go off at closer to 2-1. At 6:48 p.m. ET, we're going to find the bettors looking at this as a two-horse race. I have a different opinion.

Here's why Good Magic will finish "out of the money" and others will juice up the payouts on the exacta, trifecta and superfecta lines.

I've often lamented wagering or playing in handicapping contests against "the Chad Brown horse." They win about 30% of the time.

For those who don't follow the sport much, Brown is one of the world's top trainers. He had a reputation for being a wizard with turf horses, but you may recall that his horse, Cloud Computing, won the 2017 Preakness at 11-1. He's excellent at spotting his horses where they can win, and not one to tax his stable to take punchers' chances, as I see it.

So, one could argue that Brown simply thinks he's got the better horse than Bob Baffert's Justify.

Yet, Brown's announcement that Good Magic will bypass the Belmont Stakes in three weeks makes me questioning the horse's entry at all in the Preakness.

I suppose there's two sides of the coin -- heads says the connections feel they've got a fresh enough horse who can upset the apple cart and give his all in the Preakness, or tails says jockey Jose Ortiz is going to be under strict instructions to let Good Magic settle into the race mid-pack and hit the gas if the horse has energy, or tap the brakes so as to avoid injuring a $2 million winner who will shoot for more-lucrative riches in the Breeders Cup and, after that, the breeding shed.

Tails is the call. 

My projections and Preakness-specific plays to follow are influenced by the "race shape," or how the field of eight will stack up going into the back stretch. Sporting Chance holds the key. If he's on the lead and Justify stalks, we'll be in great shape. If he stumbles, well, back to the office on Monday morning to keep earning a living wage, so to speak.

The Field

  1. Quip (12-1): Third choice on the morning line at a high number tells us what the odds-maker thinks about the field. You'll hear a lot of the "wise guys" pick this one, citing that the horse is rested, has early speed and a great shot to sit just behind Justify and win in "ground-saving" (skimming the rail) fashion. Can he do those? Sure. Is he good enough to factor late? Not in my opinion. I give very little credence to winners of the Tampa Bay Derby, which is a Kentucky Derby prep race in early March at a track that's a cut below the prominent winter-circuit course on the other side of Florida -- Gulfstream Park. Todd Pletcher, who trains a ton of talented horses for wealthy connections, often goes that route. It's an easy way to pick up Derby points and be in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Quip's win at Tampa was against a weak field, and he faced tougher in the Arkansas Derby on April 14 and ran the same style of race but folded in the stretch to finish a non-threatening fourth. For my money, he's not quick enough to take the Preakness field wire-to-wire and could end up pinned along the rail and running at one pace. I'll use him 4th in the superfecta.
  2. Lone Sailor (15-1): This one should be the third choice. He's getting Irad Ortiz for the first time and ran a much better race than his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby lets on. I've watched his trip in that race vs. #8 Bravazo's several times and merely think Lone Sailor got the worst of it, hemmed in along the rail and stymied when trying to shift out later on to make a run at the leaders. Granted, he's got only one win in nine lifetime starts (that was on a sloppy track, by the way), but if Justify and Good Magic begin to fade, I think we're going to see this one gobbling up ground late. Lone Sailor is my second choice and is key to all tickets.
  3. Sporting Chance (30-1): I have a soft spot for this D. Wayne Lucas trainee and believe that, by season's end, he'll be an extremely prominent factor as a 7-furlong sprinter toward the Breeders Cup. This one didn't make the Kentucky Derby but ran in the undercard that afternoon, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile. To me, and this is a significant point, the replay shows two things: Sporting Chance was keen, and absolutely hated getting mud kicked in his face. You can clearly see him turning his head several times, which to me indicates he was uncomfortable. If you look at how fast the early tempo was in the Pat Day (45 and two-fifths second for a half mile), Sporting Chance makes a lot of sense as the pace-setter this afternoon and one who might not be able to "get the distance" but carousel home to a fading third or fourth.
  4. Diamond King (30-1): The connections scratched out of the same Pat Day Mile and opted for this spot, so one could argue that the fresher Diamond King is a better play than Sporting Chance at the same odds, but I disagree. His two stakes wins were of far lesser caliber, and his prior race (Federico Tedesco Stakes at Laurel Park) doesn't match up here. Pass.
  5. Good Magic (3-1): I'll have double the egg on my face with this weekend's calls and concede that I was way wrong in taking a stand against once he wins, but only one Kentucky Derby runner-up has won the Preakness in the last 25 years, and the logic of entering here and already stating that he'll skip the Belmont, to me, is a bad sign. The horse took the off conditions in the Kentucky Derby, but I think the plan here is to sit fourth or fifth off the speed, try to save ground, and make one big run. We saw that he's clearly not as fast from the gate as Justify, though I guess if it's just "not Justify's day," Good Magic can win solely by class against weaker company. Betting wise, I'm outside the $100+ exacta budget and don't think it's worth playing a Justify-Good Magic combo that others will endorse. I'm using him strictly third and fourth on my tickets.
  6. Tenfold (20-1): I totally disagree with the morning line and think he should be the second-longest shot on the board. I respect trainer Steve Asmussen but think they're overshooting here with a son of super-sire (and former Preakness winner) Curlin after a fading fifth-place effort (vs. nine) in the Arkansas Derby where the jockey had to go to the whip far from home. Pass.
  7. Justify (1-2): Again, probably not a win-bet proposition, but if he goes off at the morning line, it could be the easiest 50% return on investment you get within a two-minute span. He's simply the class of the field who can get the lead and has already won twice on sloppy to muddy tracks, including in California, which is rare. Top selection. How about that for going out on a limb...said the guy who's always in search of playable long-shots. It's rare I like a favorite this month, and maybe it's buyer beware, but easily the class here.
  8. Bravazo (20-1): I backed him a bit in the Kentucky Derby and he ran a respectable sixth but never threatened. I thought he could hit the board two weeks ago and almost did, but he simply got a much cleaner trip than Lone Sailor, so his result looks better. He's probably not fast enough to be in the top two, but I'll use him third and fourth. With the wider post just outside of Justify, you might see jockey Luis Saez try and sit just off the champ's flank and hope to have some gas left for a shocking upset. I'm not concerned about fatigue, since trainer Lucas is a little older-school and never seems too worried about wheeling his horses back quickly. But I just think he's an "underneath" horse. Rounding out the trifecta and superfecta is the ceiling.

Probably Wagers

Later on I might cobble together a Pick 5 ticket going into this race, so check back this afternoon if you'd like. But, to me, the key to a successful wagering day hinges on Justify winning, Good Magic finishing no better than third, and either Lone Sailor or Sporting Chance finishing second.

I'm investing $54 in the race, but you can cut back on denominations and my "backup" tickets and probably still have some fun with $20-$25.

Good luck to those confiding in my selections.
  • $10 exacta 7-2 (Justify-Lone Sailor)
  • $4 exacta 7-3 (Justify-Sporting Chance)
  • $5 trifecta 7 with 2 with 3, 5 = $10
  • $2 trifecta 7 with 2 with 8 = $2
  • $1 superfecta 7 with 2, 3 with 2, 3, 5, 8 with 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 = $18
  • Backup selections, in case Justify fades to second
  • $1 trifecta 2 with 7 with 3, 5, 8 = $3
  • $1 trifecta 3 with 7 with 2, 5, 8 = $3
  • $1 trifecta 2, 3 with 2, 3 with 7 = $2
  • $1 exacta box 2-3 = $2
  • If Justify flops, then it's no dice for me. 

Pick 5 (Races 9-13) Tickets: Updated 2 p.m. ET

  • $1 Pick 5: 4, 8 with 2, 7 with 7 with 8 with 7 = $4
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 4 with 2, 4, 5, 7 with 1, 3, 7 with 2, 8 with 2, 7 = $24
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 8 with 2, 4, 5, 7 with 7 with 8 with 2, 5, 7 = $6

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