Bettings

The 149th running of the Preakness Stakes is this Saturday, which means we have another opportunity to win some money. Two weeks ago, Mystik Dan held off a hard-charging Sierra Leone in one of the closest finishes in the history of the Kentucky Derby. Now Mystik Dan will attempt to complete the second leg of the Triple Crown.

With morning line favorite Muth scratched, Mystik Dan will almost certainly be the betting favorite. However, we also have several viable contenders in this eight-horse field. Let’s look at what history tells us about the Preakness and put a betting slip together.

How to Bet on the 2024 Preakness Stakes

Up-Front Speed Tends to Dominate the Preakness

While there isn’t a proven process for the Preakness like the one I use for the Kentucky Derby, we can still look to history to handicap the field. The first thing we need to know about this race is that it tends to favor speed and pacesetters. This isn’t the type of race where we should look to closers as our top choices to win. However, we also can’t completely rule them out as Rombauer won with a closing style three years ago. Here’s how the field sets up in terms of running style:

1 Mugatu (20-1) – Closer
2 Uncle Heavy (20-1) – Closer
3 Catching Freedom (6-1) – Closer
4 Muth (8-5) – scratched
5 Mystik Dan (5-2) – Stalker
6 Seize the Grey (15-1) – Stalker
7 Just Steel (15-1) – Pacesetter
8 Tuscan Gold (8-1) – Stalker
9 Imagination (6-1) – Pacesetter

Like we saw last year, there’s very little early speed in this field, with just Just Steel and Imagination figuring to be up front early. Both horses have run Beyer speed figures in the mid-90s, but this doesn’t figure to be a particularly fast pace. Just Steel had a dreadful trip in the Kentucky Derby and is tough to endorse. But there is a possibility of Imagination getting out to the lead and never giving it up.

Experience (and Winning) Matters

To win the Preakness, horses typically not only need experience in graded stakes races, but they also need to have won. Only four of the last 20 Preakness winners have not won a graded stakes race. The graded stakes winners in this field: Uncle Heavy, Catching Freedom, Mystik Dan, Seize the Grey and Imagination.

All eight horses have run in a graded stakes, but Tuscan Gold and Mugatu have only run in one each. Tuscan Gold hit the board, finishing third in the Louisiana Derby. Mugatu wasn’t as successful with a fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass. Just Steel has run in six graded stakes races, hitting the board in two of them. Of course, this horse also finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby.

Fade the Longshots

Every year there is a horse or two who is simply overmatched in this race. Oftentimes this is a local horse who is based at Pimlico. While these horses may have interesting stories, betting on them to win is a waste of your money. In 149 years of the Preakness, only four winners have come in at over 15-1 odds, with Master Derby being the longest odds we’ve seen at 23-1 in 1975.

If you had any temptation to wager on Mugatu, Uncle Heavy or Seize the Grey to win, this should hopefully dissuade you. Mugatu just didn’t have enough speed to compete in the Blue Grass. Likewise for Uncle Heavy in the Wood. Seize the Grey did win two weeks ago, but only has a max Beyer figure of 88.

However, it should be noted that four of the last 11 winners have been between 10-1 and 15-1: Rombauer at 11-1, Cloud Computing in 2017 at 13-1, Oxbow in 2013 at 15-1 and Shackleford in 2011 at 12-1. The most likely candidate in this range will be Just Steel.

Weather Could Be a Factor

Intermittent showers are in the forecast for Baltimore Saturday, with an 80% chance of rain. While today’s tracks do dry out very quickly, we do have a chance for a sloppy track. Before we get crazy with “mudder” references from Seinfeld, keep in mind that the slop didn’t impact American Pharoah in 2015. He wired the field on his way to a historic Triple Crown win.

At the same time, we’ve seen a sloppy track flip Triple Crown races on their head. Mine that Bird hugged the rail on the slop to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby. And Ruler on Ice made yours truly a bunch of money as a 24-1 long shot in the 2011 Belmont Stakes.

How did I know to wager on that horse? Believe it or not, it’s very simple. Every horse has what’s called a Tomlinson rating for different surfaces, including wet tracks. These numbers are based on the horse’s pedigree and go from 0-480 with a higher number being better.

Technically speaking, any horse with 320-or-better can handle a sloppy track. Every horse does top that threshold. However, four horses are over 400: Seize the Grey (438), Just Steel (430), Imagination (424), and Tuscan Gold (408). Seize the Grey broke its maiden on the slop, and Just Steel finished third on a sloppy track as a 2-year-old. The other two have no experience on the slop. However, Mystik Dan does. Not only that, but it ran a 101 Beyer speed figure on a muddy track back in February.

Kentucky Derby Runners Do Not Fare Well

Over the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of horses win this race after not running in the Derby. The two-week turnaround between these races is extremely quick compared to what most of these horses are used to. In fact, this applies to five of the last seven winners, including National Treasure last year. This year, we have three horses in the field who ran in the Derby: Mystik Dan, Catching Freedom and Just Steel. It’s also worth noting that Seize the Grey ran in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill on Derby Day two weeks ago.

How to Bet the Race

Given the historic trends, this race is fairly wide open. However, we’re almost certainly going to see the public wager a lot of money on Mystik Dan. The top horse coming out of the Derby tends to draw a lot of money from the betting public. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see this horse go off at 2-1 or worse. Betting on horses with such short odds is a negative-EV strategy over the long term. We can, and will, put Mystik Dan in exotic wagers, but this isn’t the horse for your win bets.

Instead, we need to look for a better price. Imagination and Tuscan Gold won’t necessarily give us the longest odds, but both horses set up well for this race and should be in contention for the win. They give us the best shot to beat the favorite.

If you don’t want to bet exotics and prefer to stick to win, place and show bets, here’s how we could approach this race on a small budget and a larger budget:

$25 Budget

$15 win bet on 9
$10 win bet on 8

$100 Budget

$30 win, and place bets on 9
$20 win and place bets on 8

In terms of the exotics, we don’t simply want to box up the favorites and call it a day. The top two betting favorites haven’t finished in those spots at the Preakness in nearly 40 years. We did see the reverse in 2012 with the second favorite winning the race and the favorite finishing second, but it’s rare for the favorites to come in at the top of the board. We almost always see horses with slightly longer odds hitting the board. Preakness exactas have had at least one horse at 10-1 or greater in nine of the last 12 races.

We need to look to some of the longer odds for our exotics. Here’s where all those closers come into play. Chase the Chaos is in play to hit the board. If you want to play a simple exacta that fades the favorite, we’d be looking at something like 8, 9 with 3, 6, 7. A $2 exacta would cost you $12 for this bet, and the payout would likely be solid. Of course, this isn’t the most probable outcome, so it’s a good idea to play multiple exotics. Here are some sample wagers based on my handicapping:

$2 exacta box: 3, 5, 8, 9 ($24 total bet)
$2 exacta box: 6, 7, 8, 9 ($24 total bet)
$2 exacta: 8 with all ($14 total bet)
$2 exacta: 9 with all ($14 total bet)
$1 trifecta: 9 with 3, 5, 8 with all ($18 total bet)
$1 trifecta: 8 with 3, 5, 9 with all ($18 total bet)
$1 trifecta: 8, 9 with all with 8, 9 ($12 total bet)