May 16, 2008

Let's not overthink Saturday's Preakness Stakes: It's Big Brown, Big Brown and Big Brown. And, after his dominating, 4 ¾-length victory in the Kentucky Derby against a field that was much more accomplished than the one he'll meet at Pimlico, there's no reason to waste your time -- or your rapidly weakening American dollars -- trying to beat him.

Big Brown is the 1-2 favorite on the morning line and will likely go off even shorter than that, meaning a $2 win bet would return $3 and some loose change. Whoopee. Despite that low return, there is money to be made in the Preakness by uncovering the big priced horse that will finish behind Big Brown in exactas and trifectas.

Five years ago, for example, Derby winner Funny Cide went off as the 2-1 favorite, and the race wasn't promising to be a moneymaker until 20-1 Midway Road and 5-1 Scrimshaw rounded out the triple, paying $120.60 for the exacta and a delicious $684.20 for the trifecta and setting off a huge celebration in the household of someone I know very, very well. Big Brown won't leave the gate at Funny Cide's 2-1, but the 2003 Preakness shows that a handsome reward is still possible.

So what horse will be this year's Midway Road and blow up the payouts? The most likely candidate is the lightly raced but talented Kentucky Bear (15-1 on the morning line), who in January won his debut by 6 ½ lengths before fading in his next start, an ambitious one, in the Fountain of Youth. He rebounded to finish a solid third on the Polytrack in the Blue Grass and, during Derby week, drew raves from horsemen for his training moves, showing he's on the rise. The problem is that all of the trackside buzz and the Friday scratch of Behindatthebar, the original third choice in the morning line, will likely make Kentucky Bear the third choice and possibly even the second ahead of Gayego (8-1), the only other holdover from the Kentucky Derby. Even then, there's value in using Kentucky Bear in exotic wagers.

Another intriguing play is Giant Moon (30-1). He won his first four races, including the Count Fleet in January, posting a snappy Beyer of 93, before essentially stopping in the fog during the Gotham. He finished a game fourth in the Wood Memorial, beaten by just two lengths -- he has been freshened up since, posting a bullet work on Tuesday. He's by Giant's Causeway so the Preakness' distance of 1 3/16 miles shouldn't be a problem and Ramon Dominguez, who rode Giant Moon for his last two wins, returns for the mount. He'll be a shocker to win, but there's a lot to like here, especially at 30-1.

Hey Byrn (20-1) won the Holy Bull at this distance last time out and has won three of his last four. The only time he lost was in the Florida Derby in which he was bumped hard at the start and was forced to race mid-pack instead of his usual stalking style. He could figure underneath.

So could the late-running Racecar Rhapsody (30-1) if all of the speed has a meltdown. And Gayego must be respected as well even though he didn't get out of the gate at Churchill and barely did any running. But at 8-1, and with other big prices on the board, Gayego will be used sparingly on these tickets.

The final play will be Big Brown on top of Kentucky Bear, Giant Moon, Hey Byrn and Racecar Rhapsody on exactas and trifectas with Gayego thrown in on some tickets just as a saver.

Pick like a champion on Saturday and good luck to all.

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