Best bets for Preakness include the favorite and this 30-1 long shot

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Improbable is led back to the barn during training at Pimlico. (Steve Helber/AP)

All of the Kentucky Derby entrants that finished in the top four, officially or not, are skipping the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico. That set the stage for Improbable — who finished fifth in the Derby but was promoted to fourth after the historic disqualification of Maximum Security — to be the morning-line favorite even if his trainer, Bob Baffert, disagrees.

“I would not make him the heavy favorite,” Baffert told Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times Union. “He is a nice horse, but I have never brought a horse to the Preakness off three straight losses.”

To be fair, those three losses came in graded stakes races against stiff competition. Improbable finished second by a neck in the Rebel Stakes (Grade 2) at Oaklawn Park in March, second by a length to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby (Grade 1) in April and was boxed in behind horses in the Kentucky Derby yet still managed to find enough room to finish fifth as the post-time favorite in this year’s run for the roses.

As a result, Improbable looks like the class of the field here and will be tough to beat on Saturday. Unfortunately, his odds (5-2 on the morning line) don’t forecast a big payday on a $2 win bet.

The trifecta (picking the first three finishers in order) and superfecta (picking the first four finishers in order), on the other hand, could offer high rewards. During last year’s Preakness, the trifecta paid $148.30 on a $1 bet despite the 2-5 favorite, Justify, hitting the wire first. The $1 superfecta paid $372.50. Three years earlier American Pharoah, a 9-10 favorite, headlined a $1,906.90 superfecta.

To determine which horses we should use in our exotics bets in addition to Improbable, we first must examine the projected pace of the race. That requires classifying the field into four broad running styles with the horses listed in order of how close to the front they project to be at the half-mile marker:

  • Need-to-lead types: horses whose best performances are run on the lead.
  • Stalkers: horses content to sit two to three lengths off the pace before making their move for the front.
  • Pressers: horses that like to run in the middle of the pack before contesting the race.
  • Closers: horses that are usually found behind the first and second flight of horses, conserving their energy for a late kick entering the stretch.
Need-to-lead Stalkers Pressers Closers
No. 6 Market King No. 4 Improbable No. 8 Signalman No. 11 Laughing Fox
No. 12 Anothertwistafate No. 1 War of Will No. 10 Everfast
No. 7 Alwaysmining No. 5 Owendale No. 2 Bourbon War
No. 3 Warrior’s Charge No. 9 Bodexpress No. 13 Win Win Win

It figures to be a swift pace with four horses who have shown a need to lead at the first call in Saturday’s race: Market King, Anothertwistafate, Alwaysmining and Warrior’s Charge. Warrior’s Charge broke his maiden by six lengths leading wire to wire at Oaklawn Park and then won an optional claimer in a similar fashion in April. But he’s 0-3 when he doesn’t get a clear lead at the first call. Alwaysmining was third by four lengths at the first call in the Federico Tesio Stakes but needed to go wire-to-wire in each his five wins before that. Anothertwistafate has three wins in six starts, all coming wire to wire on the synthetic track at Golden Gate Fields against non-graded stakes competition. Market King also likes to get out early but he hasn’t been able to sustain his early speed for more than four furlongs in route races or two furlongs in sprints, leading to just one win in eight career starts.

To complicate matters for their connections (owner, trainer and rider), Market King, Anothertwistafate and Alwaysmining are all breaking from outside posts, meaning they will have to expend extra energy to clear the field and move to the rail. When need-to-lead horses like these can’t get an easy, uncontested lead early they are, for me, automatic toss-outs to hit the board. Warrior’s Charge breaks out of post No. 3, giving him an easier — and more efficient — path to the front.

Win Win Win hasn’t won since January but his flexible running style allows him to come off the pace, like he did in the first two wins of his career, or from further back, similar to his performances in the Pasco Stakes, Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) and Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2). Either would keep him in contention on Saturday as horses near the lead early tire out from what looks to be an impending speed duel to the first call.

Also consider Signalman. His 2-year-old campaign included a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade 2) and in-the-money finishes in the Breeders’ Futurity (Grade 1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade 1). The early speed in the Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2) which he carried through to the second call (six furlongs) as a 3-year-old looks like a sign of good things to come and would certainly be enough to put this field in his rearview mirror after six furlongs. At 30-1 he’s excellent value as a key horse in the exotics.

And finally, Bodexpress has shown an ability to outrun his odds and at 20-1 is an intriguing choice to hit the board. This son of Bodemeister (second in the 2012 Preakness) finished in the money at 18-1 and 8-1 as a maiden then again in the Florida Derby (Grade 1) at a whopping 71-1. He hasn’t won a race yet but that doesn’t mean he can’t beef up the payout of the trifecta or superfecta. Added bonus: his trainer, Gustavo Delgado, has shown a slight positive return on investment for the 2019 campaign and his horses have finished in the money over half the time (54 percent).

Trifecta betting strategies

My two win choices are No. 4 Improbable and No. 13 Win Win Win and I am also using No. 3 Warrior’s Charge and No. 9 Bodexpress as place and show horses. As mentioned earlier, No. 8 Signalman makes an interesting key horse at double-digit odds and could be used in all three positions of your trifecta ticket. This strategy requires three separate tickets:

4, 13 with 8 with 3, 4, 9, 13 (Translation: Nos. 4 and 13 to win, No. 8 to finish second and Nos. 3, 4, 9, 13 to finish third. A 50-cent trifecta ticket set up this way would cost $3.)

4, 13 with 3, 4, 9, 13 with 8

8 with 4, 13 with 3, 4, 9, 13

Superfecta betting strategy

Picking winners is challenging enough, choosing who will finish fourth in a 13-horse field is similar to a crap shoot. Improbable should finish either first or second in this race but you could still swing for the fences and hope for something unusual to happen by using the ‘All’ button. To help keep costs down, No. 4 Improbable is our key horse and is featured prominently in this strategy, which requires four tickets.

50-cent super: 4, 8 with 4, 8 with 9, 13 with 9, 13 for $2

50-cent super: 4 with 8 with 9, 13 with ALL for $10

20-cent super: 4 with 8, 9, 13 with 8, 9, 13 with ALL for $12

10-cent super: ALL with 4 with 8, 9, 13 with 8, 9, 13 for $6

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