Take your chances when you bet against the winningest Triple Crown trainer Bob Baffert, who appears to be bullet-proof in the eyes of racing officials.
After a controversial failed post-race drug test by his Kentucky Derby-winning Medina Spirit, it was decided this week by The Maryland Jockey Club that Baffert will be allowed to run (what most consider) the two top horses in Saturday’s Preakness at Pimlico race track in Baltimore.
Baffert horses have failed five drug tests in more than the past year. However, he’s received minimum penalty, and some established horse racing enthusiasts are beginning to ask: What will it take for Baffert to receive a significant punishment from racing officials?
Preakness post time is 6:47 p.m. ET, with NBC providing extensive coverage. It’s race 13 on a 14-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m. Here, we’ll provide all you need to know to make some educated wagers on Preakness Day.
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Baffert is running the controversial morning line favorite
Kentucky Derby winner (for now) Medina Spirit was installed as the 9-5 morning line favorite for Saturday. Derby host Churchill Downs has since suspended Baffert from competing there and is conducting a split-sample test on Medina Spirit from the Derby.
Race officials say that if the horse also fails the split-sample, his win would be invalidated. Results from the test will not likely be available until after the Preakness.
The initial post-race test showed traces of banned steroid betamethasone. Baffert initially claimed that Medina Spirit had not received betamethasone, but later his attorney said the horse received it through an anti-fungal ointment used to treat dermatitis leading up to the race, and that may have caused the horse to fail the post-race test.
In an agreement reached Tuesday that allows Medina Spirit to race, the horse will be subject to “rigorous testing and monitoring.” The same scrutiny will be applied to Baffert’s other entry, Concert Tour.
Concert Tour Takes the Big Stage
Baffert’s other horse – Concert Tour – is the next choice at 5-2.
Concert Tour rated as the top 3-year-old during the two months leading up to the first Saturday in May.
Concert Tour did not run in the Kentucky Derby. In the week leading up to the race, Baffert said the horse was “not ready.” But he’s entered on Saturday and will be ridden by 55-year-old, two-time Preakness winner Mike Smith (most recent Preakness win was 2018 with Justify).
Baffert has won the Preakness seven times – six of them were Kentucky Derby winners. An eighth win would set the all-time mark. If he breaks the mark, he’ll witness it from home in California. Baffert will not be in Baltimore all week, citing an unwillingness to be a “distraction” amid the raging controversy, according to DRF.
Derby horses joining Medina Spirit on Saturday are Midnight Bourbon (5-1) and Keepmeinmind (15-1). Midnight Bourbon closed well from 14th place to earn a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Steve Asmussen’s horse will have top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard. Ortiz rode Known Agenda to a disappointing ninth-place finish at Churchill.
Keepmeinmind (15-1), who placed seventh after rallying late in the Derby, is entered for trainer Robertino Diodoro. The horse has one win in seven lifetime starts.
Not racing on Saturday is Derby runner-up Mandaloun, who Churchill Downs said would be declared the Kentucky Derby winner if Medina Spirit’s split sample is positive. Some say that given Baffert’s admission of the ointment, that would be enough to disqualify Medina Spirit, regardless.
Why ‘New Shooters’ Matter
Handicappers will focus on the many trends related to the chances of “new shooters” (horses that didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby) and those numbers are intriguing. Largely, though, history has shown that simply having entered the Derby at Churchill Downs is often on the winning Preakness horse’s resume.
Since 2000 (not including 2020), only four new shooters have won the Preakness. Looking at the best performance of a new shooter each year during that period, they have 20 starts and a 4-8-4 mark. The Derby horses swept all three of the trifecta positions four times, but there has not been a new shooter trifecta since 2000, reports HorseRacingNation.
When a Derby horse wins the Preakness, 60 percent of the time at least one new shooter is part of the trifecta.
The last “new shooter” to win the Preakness was Cloud Computing in 2017, trained by Chad Brown.
The horse paid $28.80 to win in 2017, despite posting a pedestrian winning speed figure. Derby winner Always Dreaming faded to an eighth-place finish that day.
There are eerie similarities between Cloud Computing and Crowded Trade (10-1), Brown’s entrant for Saturday. Each came into the race with three career starts – both won their six-furlong debuts at Aqueduct; both finished second in the one-mile Gotham (G3) and both placed third in the Wood Memorial (G2). Javier Castellano had the Preakness mount on Cloud Computing and is scheduled to ride Crowded Trade.
From post position 1, a win by trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ Ram (30-1) would be his seventh in the Preakness, putting him in a tie for most in the race’s history. Lukas has run 41 horses in the Preakness. Ram is from American Pharoah, but his highest Beyer Speed Figure is 81. Lukas last won the Preakness in 2013 with Oxbow.
Preakness Pace Favors Baffert’s Horses
Concert Tour (post 10) and Medina Spirit (post 3) are front-runners. It is anticipated, according to HorseRacingNation’s Reinier Macatangay, for Medina Spirit to break well to the lead early and let Concert Tour come over to join him before assuming the front-running position in the 1 3/16th mile race. (The Derby is run at a mile and a quarter).
“Right behind them, Midnight Bourbon is probable to settle into a stalking position. While this horse has the speed to set or press the pace in most normal route races, he figures to get outrun by the two speedier Baffert-trained pacesetters into the first turn.
“Crowded Trade, Rombauer (12-1), Risk Taking (15-1) and Ram (30-1) are probable to make up the mid-pack runners. Rombauer might own enough tactical speed to join Midnight Bourbon, as shown early on before his third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).”
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s Unbridled Honor (15-1); international shipper France Go De Ina (20-1) and Keepmeinmind “make up the rear and will need an unlikely pace meltdown to steal the race.”
Macatangay also writes that the belief that closers cannot win at Pimlico is false. You’ll hear all about the track’s “tight turns,” which tends to favor speed, but “with the right setup and ability, mid-pack and deep closers can win on this track if there is no obvious bias.”
A speedy pace anticipated on Saturday is because of the styles of the horses entered and the overall field. And let’s remember: pace is often determined by “human strategy” no matter the horses’ ability.
Beyer Speed Figures
Medina Spirit has the only triple-digit Beyer in the field, running a 102 in the Kentucky Derby. He also has five Beyers of 94 or higher in his past five races. Concert Tour has run a pair of 94s.
Crowded Trade’s speed figure was 95 two races back in the Grade 3 Gotham.
Midnight Bourbon has run a pair of 96s, but only a 90 in the Kentucky Derby; same as Keepmeinmind.
Unbridled Honor is coming off his best (91) in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes; Rombauer and Risk Taking have never hit 90; and France Go De Ina has only run abroad and has no Beyer Speed Figures on his resume.
2021 Preakness Stakes odds
|Morning Line Odds
|Irad Ortiz Jr.
|France Go de Ina
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Julio Cortez