Call it the curse of Spectacular Bid.In the 20 runnings of...

May 15, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Call it the curse of Spectacular Bid.

In the 20 runnings of the Kentucky Derby since the great Maryland horse won, the wagering favorite has been beaten. That includes this year's Derby, which was won by the 31-1 long-shot Charismatic.

Not so in Baltimore. Over the past 20 runnings of the Preakness Stakes, the bettors' choice has won one-third of the time. And the favorite has finished in the money 70 percent of the time.

The reason has to do with important differences between the two races, and the fact that bettors apply lessons from the Derby to the Preakness, said John Gollehon, author of the recently published book Budget Gambling.

"You already have some sort of record because they already have competed against each other. You've got something to base it on," Gollehon said.

Although the Preakness has non-Derby runners, its field is generally stocked with runners that faced off in the classic two weeks earlier. Because the Derby is so prestigious, just about any horse with a shot and the necessary winnings is entered. Trainers are usually more cautious in the Preakness.

And with the race limited to immature, 3-year-old horses, having another Grade I stakes race to add to their past performance is a big help to handicappers.

Also, the Derby field in recent years has been populous. This year's went off with 19 horses, setting up a grueling 1 1/4 that saw horses bumping into each other. Jockeys struggled to find open lanes. This makes the race much more upredictable, Gollehon said.

On the other hand, the smaller Preakness field -- it might be 12 this year -- makes for shorter odds on trifectas and other exotic wagers, Gollehon said.

Across the country, the favorites win in American thoroughbred races 33 percent of the time, exactly the same as in the Preakness. The favorites end up in the money 67 percent of the time, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Tips by Gollehon for bettors today:

Don't disregard the track handicapper's picks. Some bettors assume the program's favorites will become the favorite and not pay enough to make a wager worthwhile. Gollehon said this sometimes creates a backlash against good horses and drives their odds up.

Keep an eye on the tote board, where you can watch the odds change before the race. Sometimes the odds will drop suddenly on a horse, indicating a few big bets -- possibly being made by knowlegeable bettors with a reason to favor one horse over another. Follow the pack, he said.

And focus on distance when comparing the past performance of horses. One horse may do well on shorter races while another excels on longer ones. Compare apples to apples.

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