Preakness Stakes Handicapping Strategy: Good Trips vs. Bad Trips
Trip Handicapping for the Preakness Stakes
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In you take a look into past performance information when trying to handicap a race, a quick glance will tell you where the horse finished a previous race and how many lengths they were behind the leader. Besides just the raw numbers, however, it’s a good idea to go a bit deeper into how the horse ended up where it did. Often this means watching video of previous races.
Taking a look back at the 2017 Kentucky Derby gives a good example of a “good trip” versus a “bad trip”, as it concerned two of the top contenders in the race.
Irish War Cry’s Kentucky Derby Trip
As the 9-2 co-favorite for the Derby, a lot was expected from Irish War Cry. He came into the race off a win in the (G2) Wood Memorial, where he stalked close to a fairly quick pace down the backstretch, worked up to even terms with the leader on the turn, and kicked away to win by more than three lengths.
It was expected that he was a strong contender for the win if he could get much the same set up in the Derby. He got his desired setup as it turned out but could do no better than 10th place. In looking at the race from a trip point of view, he had no excuse for finishing so poorly.
Breaking from the #17 post, Irish War Cry immediately veered left, causing all sorts of havoc for the horses just inside him (more on that later). Like the guy who hits the brakes in traffic and then drives away oblivious to the pile up he caused behind him, the break had no effect on his race.
He quickly moved up to the top flight of horses going into the turn, and emerged onto the backstretch in fourth place. He then moved up to third by the one-mile point, less than a length off the eventual winner, Always Dreaming. He was getting the exact trip he wanted, and as they came off the turn, loomed up on the right shoulder of Always Dreaming, ready to explode down the stretch.
Except he didn’t explode in the stretch, and instead, as they straightened for home, simply fell off the pace. With the perfect trip set up, he just didn’t have it in him to take over. Overall, it has to be considered a very disappointing result, and raises a red flag going forward in other races.
Classic Empire’s Derby Trip
Next we look at Classic Empire, coming from the #14 post, the pre-race favorite for the Derby. When Irish War Cry veered left out of the gate, he first made contact with McCraken, who then slammed left into Classic Empire, almost knocking him down.
He was able to recover, but was already far back in the pack by the time he got running, trailing far behind in 13th place. While he has shown some ability to come from further back, he runs best when he can sit a few lengths off the leader early. Instead, he was faced with passing eight or nine horses just to get into contention.
He was able to move forward, one of the few in the race to do so, going from 12th at the 3/4 marker, to 8th after a mile, to 6th as they turned for home. But to get into a position of having a clear shot at running down the leaders, he had to go five-paths wide around the wall of horses in front of him on the turn, on a sloppy Churchill track where it was best to be as close to the rail as possible.
Then, once he started his run on the lead, McCraken, slowing next to him, veered out to the right, and again Classic Empire was bumped. If he had a last shot at getting to Always Dreaming as they raced through the last 1/8 of a mile, that’s when it was lost, and he did well to keep on and get up for fourth.
It was a pretty good effort for a horse that had a bad trip. Despite finishing almost nine lengths behind him in the Derby, it’s not far-fetched to think he could give Always Dreaming a run for his money in a race run on more even terms.
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