2024 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico - Analysis, picks and predictions

Pick Pony |May 15, 2024, 1:44 p.m.

About the Preakness Stakes


About the Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes is a Grade I American horse race held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Scheduled annually on Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May, it covers a distance of 1 3/16 miles on dirt. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds, while fillies carry 121 pounds. As the second leg of the Triple Crown, it takes place two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and three weeks before the Belmont Stakes. It is the shortest of the Triple Crown races.

It’s essential to recognize that not all the best horses show up for the Preakness Stakes. Thoroughbred horse racing is about money, and the value of a high Kentucky Derby finisher goes up. A bad performance at the Preakness could dampen that value - and it’s easy to have a bad day in a race that falls just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. That’s why many of the Kentucky Derby horses do not show up in this race - some wait for the Belmont Stakes, which is three weeks hence.

Preakness Stakes history

Initiated in 1873, the Preakness Stakes was named after a winning colt at the inaugural Dinner Party Stakes at Pimlico. The event-packed "Preakness Weekend" includes the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, a Grade II race for fillies on Friday, and the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. It ranks as the second most attended equestrian event in North America, following the Kentucky Derby.
The 149th Preakness Stakes is set for Saturday, May 18, 2024.

Centuries of tradition

In the past, just before the Preakness horses were led to the post, attendees were asked to sing "Maryland, My Maryland", Maryland's state song. This tradition was discontinued in 2020 due to controversy around the song's celebration of the Confederacy.

Once the Preakness winner is declared, a painter ascends a ladder to a replica of the Old Clubhouse cupola. The victorious owner's colors are added to the jockey and horse on the weather vane atop the infield structure. This custom dates back to 1909, when a horse and rider weather vane was above the old Members' Clubhouse, built in 1870 when Pimlico opened.

A blanket of yellow flowers, painted with black lacquer to mimic a black-eyed Susan, is draped over the winning horse, and a replica of the Woodlawn Vase is given to the owner.

Pimlico track bias

A bias towards wide route runners on the dirt track is common. Most of the claimers and allowance events for three years and older were won by horses avoiding the track's inside. Inside-drawn horses fair better in sprint events, with post 6 being the number one gate. In either case, runners rarely win in stalls ten or above win.

When rain is predicted in Maryland, focus on outside speed. Horses that front run from wider positions often win if the track is sloppy.

The turf track is a level playing field, but this changes with rising temperatures. The turf course gets firmer in spring, benefiting frontrunners. Closers have an advantage during the early Pimlico meeting weeks, but this evens out over subsequent meets.

The winner was close to the early pace in almost every Preakness in the past decade.

Weather considerations are a concern

As of this writing, there’s a 50/50 chance of rain during Race 13 at Pimlico. Add in humidity and a gusty wind, and you have enough extraneous factors to make any handicap crawl under his table and hide (except us, of course).

Expect a decent chance of a muddy track and adjust your numbers accordingly.

2024 Preakness Stakes entires, picks, and predictions

Mugatu

Eh, one for twelve in lifetime starts with his only win when he broke his maiden way back when? I guess the gates two through nine could fail to open, but we’re not counting on it. We’re ignoring the sharp works and his sharply rising speed trend too. Toss.

Uncle Heavy

Uncle Heavy likely is not fast enough for this field. Mud would help, but even Irad Ortiz can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. Toss.

Catching Freedom

Catching Freedom should be a target for anyone looking for an overlay. He is a strong closer, rallying from 15th in the Derby to finish fourth, less than two lengths behind the top three, and it’s hard to bet against Brad Cox. He’s got the speed to run with Muth, Mystik Dan, and the other rocket ships.

His speed and all pace numbers (E1, E2, LP) are trending up, with AI predicting an upward bounce in speed for this race. However, a sloppy surface may not be his forte, and rain is a possibility. Plus, he does not seem to favor this race shape.

We’re going with AI’s suggestion and presume a bump in speed puts him in the money—barely.

Muth

Ineligible for the Kentucky Derby because of trainer Bob Baffert’s suspension, Muth arrives eligible for the Preakness Stakes and will be the 8-5 favorite. That’s expected given Baffert’s eight wins in the Preakness since 1997.

Unlike some of the other entries (e.g., Catching Freedom, Mystik Dan, Seize The Grey, and Just Steel), Muth will arrive at the Preakness well-rested - and boy, does he bring the heat. He’s easily the fastest horse in the bunch. However, while early pace numbers seem to be trending upward, his speed is trending flat, which is a mild concern. He certainly has the early speed to set the pace with Imagination, and that blowout performance back in November was no fluke. Bob Baffert knows how to bring a horse into a critical race in peak condition, and Muth will be in peak form when the gates open.

A wet track could hurt his chances, and that’s what we will condition our pick on. If the surface is good, it’s Muth for the win. Otherwise, he’ll get edged out by…

Mystik Dan

Second in odds is Mystik Dan, who will run alongside the favorite, Muth. He finished third behind Muth in the Arkansas Derby, but we’ll chalk that up to a bad start and twist in the turn. His win at the Kentucky Derby puts a lot of pressure on him to win the second leg of the Triple Crown. Many people will bet on him just for that reason, which will create an unavoidable and, of course, unprofitable underlay.

But what about that Kentucky Derby win? Derby winners rarely repeat wins (the last time was Justify, six years ago). Before the Derby, Mystik Dan was barely a breath on people’s lips. Fierceness, Sierra Leone, and Catching Freedom (who starts this race to the left of Muth) were the talk of the town. Plus, GPS data shows Mystik Dan traveled 6,608 feet, 23 feet less than Sierra Leone and 39 fewer feet than Forever Young. That means Mystik Dan was only the third-fastest horse in that race.

But let’s not forget that Mystik Dan likes playing in the mud. His best performance came on a muddy track in February when he took the win away from Just Steel. If it’s a sloppy surface, Mystik Dan is our pick. Otherwise, he’ll finish in the money but not on top.

Seize The Grey

Seize the Grey won the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day, and this route might be a better distance for him. However, he’s only been given two weeks to rest.

His speed is consistently improving, as is his early pace figures - but he’s not fast enough for this group of talent. Toss.

Just Steel

Just Steel finished just two lengths behind Muth in the Arkansas Derby, but we’re not seeing much improvement in his speed stats. Part of that was due to his poor performance in the Kentucky Derby, a finish that looked worse on paper than it was. Regardless, we believe he will finish out of the money, somewhere in the middle.

Tuscan Gold

Remember Tuscan Gold? Of course not. He lives in the shadows of his stablemate, Sierra Leone. But trainer Chad Brown has a card up his sleeve. Skip the Derby and win the Preakness. Brown has won the Preakness twice in seven years by sneaking in horses under the radar.

Tuscan Gold finished third in the Louisiana Derby, only the third race in his young career, and trainer Chad Brown says his 1 3/4 length deficit behind Catching Freedom was due to a bad trip. Brown told the Daily Racing Form:

“I thought he was the best horse in the race. He didn’t get a good trip at all. I wasn’t happy about it. He should have tucked him on the first turn. He was the only horse near the front who finished. He ran great. I expected him to run big.”

He’ll be entering the Preakness with a nice 1 1/2 month rest, but his latest works look a bit wonky. He’s a bit inexperienced, too, which may show with Tyler Gaffalione riding atop. We see good things in his future; he could surprise us in the Preakness. Still, there’s only a slim chance he makes the board. We’re placing him slightly out of the money.

Imagination

Another runner from Bob Baffert’s barn, Imagination scares the bejeezus out of us. He has never finished lower than second in six career starts and has two wins. And what about that early speed? He’s the only speedhorse in the bunch, which typically offers an excellent opportunity for a wire-to-wire win.

He’s rested, his works have been sharp and his speed improving with each race. He hasn’t faced this level of competition before but his past performances say he prefers a challenge. And his outside post may work to his advantage.

Watch the odds on this one. Rain or shine, he could easily make the board. We’re putting him in 4th position but leaving the door open for an upset. If the overlay looks good, we’ll drop some coin on him.