When it comes to the horse racing these days, betters are Dreaming big.
The Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore is set for a 6:45 ET start time on Saturday, with Kentucky Derby champion Always Dreaming a solid favorite to get a step closer to the Triple Crown. Weather calls for mostly cloudy skies, with a 10-percent chance of rain (keep in mind that the Derby had a sloppy track earlier this month).
To get insight on where to put your money, we got in touch with Mark Coomes, a betting expert and horse handicapper who previously wrote about the sport for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
As of late Friday, here's how the field's odds (via Bovada.lv) and post positions looked:
1. Multiplier (40-1)
2. Cloud Computing (14-1)
3. Hence (20-1)
4. Always Dreaming (4-5)
5. Classic Empire
6. Gunnevera (16-1)
7. Term of Art (33-1)
8. Senior Investment (33-1)
9. Lookin at Lee (10-1)
10. Conquest Mo Money (18-1)
1. Bet on just one of the two favorites, not both
COOMES: It's a good field. As a betting opportunity, it's a race you should double your money by folding it over and putting it back in your pocket. It really looks like a two-horse race. Both Always Dreaming and Classic Empire are more accomplished than the rest of the field. I just don't see how it's worth betting if you're going to bet both of them.
I'm going to throw Classic Empire out and take my chances. I'm not going to "invest" very much in the race because Classic Empire could wreck all my plans, but if you can get one or both in the exacta or the trifecta, you could make some real money, because money will be pouring in on those two.
2. Consult the Derby results
COOMES: Kentucky Derby alumni rule the Preakness. (Author's note: Since 1983, only three horses have won the Preakness without first running in the Kentucky Derby.) For the most part, the best three-year-olds this time of year are in the Derby, and if they're fit enough to go to the Preakness, then they're the best and the fittest and they're running against horses who, for the most part, just weren't good enough to get into the derby field. So they have a big upper hand.
3. But don't bet like you did before
COOMES: With the Derby, if you're going to bet exotics, you have to spread your bets. There are so many possibilities of horses sneaking in there. We saw in the Derby, the runner-up was 33-1 and the third-place finisher was 40-1. Those are two monster long shots, so you have to invest quite a bit to cover a lot of horses, because there are a lot of available outcomes.
The Preakness is quite a bit different. For one, we've gone from 20 horses to 10, which makes things run a lot more to form. About half the field is the type that didn't run in the Derby and they're generally just not good enough. And then you have the other five horses. You can make a much a more compact bet.
My strategy in the Preakness has always been to find a couple horses, maybe two, three, four horses I feel really good about and leverage, which means instead of a 1-dollar trifecta box or trifecta wheel, I'll do a four or five dollar. I know it won't pay as much as the Derby, but I try to hit it hard.
4. One of the favorites looks vulnerable
COOMES: The best way to make money is to take a stand against either Classic Empire or Always Dreaming, the two horses with a ton of money on them. I haven't heard anybody, not even Classic Empire fans, who are willing to toss out Always Dreaming. He looked great in the Derby, great in training and it's very common for the Derby winner to go to the Preakness and not only win, but run the best race of his entire three-year-old season. Classic Empire looks vulnerable. Too much was made of his traffic problems early in the Derby. He caused his own problems. He stumbled and broke outward, which means instead of going toward the rail, he broke toward the grandstand … Had he broke like Always Dreaming breaks --which is quickly, sharply, straight, like a professional racehorse -- he doesn't have that problem. He's clear of all the nonsense and everything's good. That makes it six starts in eight runs that he's gotten off to a bad start.
[Classic Empire] will also be running his third race in five weeks, which is a lot to ask of any horse these days, let alone one who really hadn't done much since he won the Breeder's Cup in early November. He's really never had an extended period of ramping up to these kinds of races like everyone else in the field has. I think it's possible he throws in a complete stinker.
5. Pick Always Dreaming to win, but keep an eye on Hence
COOMES: I'm going to single Always Dreaming on top in everything.
I'll make a side bet in case Hence blows up. I liked him in the Derby. He ran terribly. Apparently he didn't take well at all to getting the mud splashed in his face, the big baby. But, I learned long ago, if you like a horse in the Kentucky Derby and you get your feelings hurt when he runs poorly, they'll come back in the Preakness or at the Belmont and wipe you out. So I've learned not to let that happen. Hence may stink again, but his odds will be at least as good as they were in the Derby -- 15-1 -- and he'll be in a field half the size. He hardly ran a step, so he's not tired.
I think Hence will be closer and he'll have a real shot if Always Dreaming, Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money -- the other speed horse -- get in a little ding-dong battle and wear each other out. Hence has a chance to pick up the pieces.
Main bet, with trifecta possibilities:
Always Dreaming on top of everything, with combinations of Hence, Cloud Computing, Conquest MoMoney and Multiplier, who just won the Illinois Derby.