Can Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978? Before we put the cart in front of the horse, Big Brown first has to win the Preakness at Pimlico, then the ultimate test, the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
Big Brown is the Preakness 1-2 morning-line favorite over 12 foes who, in boxing lingo, resemble a dozen tomato cans. The beating that Big Brown inflicted on a 20-horse Derby field was so convincing that only Gayego is willing to try him again in Baltimore.
If horse races were run on paper, then Big Brown would win the Preakness by daylight. But they are not. However, I won’t be among those trying to beat Big Brown. I tried that in the Derby.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that while Big Brown was the best horse in the Derby, a wide trip from post 20 would get him beat. He got a wide trip all right. Big Brown raced so far off the rail, all the way around, that speed figure handicappers who factor in ground loss gave him one of the fastest Derby ratings in modern history.
His Derby speed figure is such that even if Big Brown bounces and runs slower in the Preakness, he remains the most likely race winner.
My recommendation for betting the Preakness is to concede Big Brown the top spot. If you accept that premise, then horizontal (pick 3, pick 4, pick 6) and vertical (exacta, trifecta, superfecta) bets are the way to go keying on Big Brown.
There also is a Friday daily-double bet between the Pimlico Special and the Preakness. My main daily double will be Grasshopper to Big Brown. Smaller saver doubles will be Gottcha Gold and A.P. Arrow to Big Brown.
As for my vertical Preakness wagers, I will use four horses underneath Big Brown: Behindatthebar (10-1), Kentucky Bear (15-1), Giant Moon (30-1) and Hey Byrn (20-1). Note that I am leaving out the strong second choice, Gayego.
I do not like the fact that Gayego is traveling back and forth across the country. After the Derby, he was returned to his home base at Hollywood Park. Now trainer Paulo Lobo is shipping him cross-country again from California to Baltimore. A redeeming angle is he ran only a mile in the Derby. Jockey Mike Smith eased up on him in the stretch when hopelessly beaten.
Of the four long shots I’ll put underneath Big Brown, the one I like best is Behindatthebar, who is part owned by Las Vegas resident Don Stanley. With four weeks’ rest off a career-best race in the Lexington, Behindatthebar should be closing fast late.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.