The middle jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown, the 130th running of the Preakness Stakes, will be contested Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. A maximum 14 3-year-old horses will be vying for a purse of $1 million over the distance of 1 3/16th miles, which is 110 yards shorter than the Kentucky Derby.
In the Derby, the winner was Giacomo, who at 50-to-1 pulled off the second biggest upset in the history of the Run for the Roses. It was easy for most people to overlook the gray roan, with only a maiden victory on his resume.
In second place came another longshot in Closing Argument, who at 72-to-1 helped create a $2 exacta return of $9,814. Having one of the favorites such as Afleet Alex take third didn't hurt the $2 trifecta, which paid $133,134. With one of the longer shots Don't Get Mad grabbing fourth, don't get mad that you didn't get a piece of the highest ever Derby $2 superfecta payoff of $1,728,507. Really, if you had a ticket with just the exacta, consider than an amazing achievement.
Now, Giacomo is the only horse with the opportunity to be a living Triple Crown champion, and if he wins the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, he captures an additional $5 million bonus from VISA USA. The odds are against him, though, as just 11 horses have ever won the Triple Crown, with Affirmed being the last in 1978.
Handicapping the Preakness -
Of the three Triple Crown venues, Pimlico is the most unique because its turns are perceived to be tighter than most tracks, and there is a relatively short final stretch. One might think that would favor a horse that breaks early, then takes the lead and saves ground throughout the race. But speed horses rarely win the Preakness. Since 1982, only Louis Quatorze in 1996 and Funny Cide in 2003 led wire-to-wire.
True closers also rarely win at Pimlico, Pleasant Colony being the last in 1981. With a short stretch run and any speed horses bunching up on the inside, by the time a closer hits the top of the stretch on the outside, the race for first is already over.
So, the winner should come from just off the pace.
The 10 horses here that raced in Kentucky have the advantage, as 20 out of the last 21 Preakness winners ran in the Derby. Where a horse finished can be overrated, as 8 of those 20 wound up fifth or worse, and Louis Quatorze had settled for 16th.
Those looking forward to a Derby-like upset will be disappointed. Almost 50 percent of the time the favorite has won the Preakness. Fifteen of the last 20 winners were either the first or second choice, and the longest shot ever to win was Master Derby in 1975 at 23-to-1. Only six horses with odds of 10-to-1 or higher have won since 1927.
Winner - Giacomo. Three straight and six out of the last eight Kentucky Derby winners went on to win the Preakness.
Place - Afleet Alex. Only three out of the past 20 favorites have finished out of the money in the Preakness.
Show - Wilko bled and went 12-wide the whole way in the Derby.
• As of Wednesday evening, odds were not out yet for tennis' second major, the French Open, which begins Monday at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris. Patience and stamina are the keys to winning the French where players must survive long baseline rallies on the slow, red clay. The strongest contenders have prepared mentally and physically for tennis' most grueling tournament by achieving success during the current European clay court season.
The men's competition has been dominated in recent years by South Americans and Europeans, especially Spaniards, who grew up playing on clay and dreaming of becoming the champion of the French Open, not the U.S. Open or Wimbledon.
Winner - The 18-year-old Spanish sensation, Rafael Nadal.
On the women's side, it is clear that Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne has overcome her lengthy bout with a severe viral infection. She is undefeated this clay court season.
• NBA - Historically, in seven-game series that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has gone on to advance 84 percent of the time. That bodes well for San Antonio, Detroit and Phoenix joining Miami in the Conference Finals.
Predictions: San Antonio over Phoenix or Dallas; Detroit over Miami. If Indiana somehow gets in, the pick is Miami over Indiana.