When Epicenter hit the front with Zandon trying to chase him down in the stretch run of the Kentucky Derby, and Crown Pride trying to hold on for third, visions of leaving Churchill Downs with a pocket full of cash admittedly ran through my mind.
That combination was one of the trifectas I had suggested in how to bet a $100 bankroll on the big race — and for a brief moment looked like it might be a winner. But all of that ended when 80-to-1 Rich Strike shot through the inside for one of the most stunning Derby victories anyone has ever witnessed.
For those who had Rich Strike, it was a very, very lucrative day. For the rest of us? Hey, it was a great story.
But after shaking off the disappointment of getting wiped out in the Derby, it’s time to try our luck in the Preakness with another $100 venture that will hopefully get us back to even and then some.
The second leg of the Triple Crown is always a very different race from the Derby. It’s a smaller field (just nine entries this year versus 20 in the Derby), 1/16th of a mile shorter and always includes a mix of horses from the Derby making the short two-week turnaround, as well as some late bloomers who weren’t ready or didn’t have enough points to qualify for the first leg.
And this time, of course, the Preakness does not include the Derby winner, whose connections made the highly unusual decision to skip the race and give Rich Strike more time to recover.
But even without a Triple Crown possibility on the line, this Preakness looks like an interesting race that will match Epicenter against Secret Oath, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly who put in a dominant performance in the Kentucky Oaks.
On paper, Epicenter is a deserving favorite. Outside of his 2-year-old debut last September, he’s never finished worse than second and ran a good enough race to win the Derby. With apologies to Rich Strike, whose Derby performance was most likely a one-off, Epicenter is the best 3-year-old colt in America.
That means if Epicenter has his A-game, he’s probably going to win the Preakness. But there are lots of reasons he might not be at his best, starting with the fact that all of his previous races were spaced out at least four weeks apart. We won’t know until Saturday night how he handles coming back in two weeks, and at 6-to-5 on the morning line, Epicenter is not going to offer much betting value.
Likewise, Secret Oath is going to take a lot of money — not just because she’s an excellent filly but because there’s huge sentimental value attached to Lukas, a five-time Preakness winner who is still grinding it out every day at 86. Plus, fillies have fared well in the Preakness recently, with Rachel Alexandra winning in 2009 and Swiss Skydiver beating the boys in 2020.
But those aren’t the only logical contenders in the race.
Early Voting is a talented and well-bred colt from the Chad Brown barn who finished second by just a neck in the Wood Memorial on April 9 in only his third career race. Likewise, Creative Minister is making just his fourth start and impressively won one of the undercard races on Derby Day, prompting his connections to give the Preakness a shot.
The wildcard of the race might be Armagnac, who didn't show much this spring in the West Coast Derby preps but dropped down in class on May 8 and put in the best performance of his career.
Then there’s Simplification, whose fast-closing stretch run in the Derby to finish fourth was largely overlooked because Rich Strike closed quicker.
SKIPPING RACE: Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike will skip Preakness Stakes
But there was one big difference between those two horses: While Rich Strike hugged the rail and saved every bit of ground around the far turn, Simplification had to race six or seven paths wide in order to get a clear run. If Simplification had gotten Rich Strike’s trip, he might well have been the Derby winner.
From the very beginning of his career, Simplification has shown that he’s a quality colt. In March, he stamped himself as one of the top Derby contenders with a come-from-behind win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. For some reason, jockey Jose Ortiz changed tactics in the Florida Derby, pressing the lead and tiring to third in the stretch. But in Kentucky, he went back to his more natural running style, ran a very good race but lost too much ground going wide on the final turn.
Simplification, who drew the No. 1 post position, will not face as much traffic this time around. But whether it all comes together for him in the Preakness will depend on what kind of pace the leaders set up front.
The good news is, there’s quality speed in this race with Early Voting and Armagnac likely vying for the lead and Epicenter either joining them or tracking just behind. If they set decently fast fractions, you can see how the race might unfold, with Epicenter poised to pounce at the 3/8 pole, the other two struggling to hold on while Simplification, Secret Oath and perhaps Creative Minister begin gathering momentum as they head into the stretch.
We’re going to bet that Simplification, who picks up jockey John Velazquez for the Preakness, is the horse able to save some ground this time and have a little more left in the tank than both Epicenter and Secret Oath, who made a big run around the far turn but flattened out in the stretch the first time she faced colts in the Arkansas Derby. At 6-to-1 on the morning line, Simplification also offers a lot more value than both of them despite running almost as impressive a race as Epicenter did in the Derby.
So for our $100, here’s how we’re going to bet:
$25 to win on Simplification
A straight $20 exacta Simplification over Epicenter
A straight $10 exacta Simplification over Creative Minister
A $6 straight trifecta Simplification-Epicenter-Secret Oath
A $2 trifecta Simplification using Epicenter, Secret Oath, Creative Minister and Early - Voting in second and third ($24 bet total)
A $5 straight trifecta Epicenter-Simplification-Secret Oath
A $10 straight exacta Epicenter over Simplification
Hopefully a minor Preakness upset can yield a big payday and make up for emptying our pockets on Derby Day. Good luck!
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Preakness Stakes: How to bet $100 for this year's race