Commentary

Here's how to play the Preakness

Updated: May 18, 2012, 11:47 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

The Preakness is usually the antithesis of the Kentucky Derby. It's a race where form holds, there's not much in the way of surprises and the contenders come through. And this one looks more predictable than ever. Looking to nail a $350 exacta? Forget about it. In this Preakness, it's not going to happen.

This is a two-horse race, maybe a three-horse race.

It's hard to get past Bodemeister. The story of his Kentucky Derby performance doesn't necessarily need repeating, but here goes: He set ridiculously fast fractions yet was good enough to hold on for second. Faced with an adverse situation, he performed admirably. Before that, he was sensational when winning the Arkansas Derby. This is a talented animal and he's in the hands of Bob Baffert, who has won this race five times.

Mike Smith guides Bodemeister to victory in the Arkansas Derby.
AP PhotoBodemeister rolled home in the Arkansas Derby.
Two weeks after the Derby, he figures to face the exact opposite scenario. There is no Trinniberg or Hansen in here. Bodemeister looks like the only serious speed. Where he went 22.1, 45.1 and 1:09.4 in the Derby, he might just get away with fractions 24, 48 and 1:12 here. If so, it's hard to imagine him losing.

That doesn't mean that I'll Have Another can't win. There was nothing fluky about his victory in the Kentucky Derby, where he was the only horse able to get past a dead tired Bodemeister. And while he figures to get a less favorable trip in the Preakness, he won't get a bad trip.

Prior to the Derby, I'll Have Another displayed tactical speed in most of his races and was even in front early last year in a couple of sprints. The game plan for him seems fairly obvious: Don't go out there with Bodemeister, but stay close enough so that he doesn't get away from you. I'll Have Another should be two to three lengths behind Bodemeister after the opening five furlongs and then he and Mario Gutierrez will have to reel him in. It can happen.

I expect these two, the two favorites, to again run one-two. Of the other nine in the field, Went The Day Well looks like the best. He finished fourth in the Derby, a performance that was good enough to suggest he can threaten at Pimlico. But there was nothing wrong with his trip that day and it seemed that he simply wasn't good enough to beat the top two, or third-place finisher Dullahan.

Creative Cause might have a puncher's chance. Finishing fifth, he was beaten by only three lengths in the Derby, and he was good enough to beat Bodemeister in the San Felipe and lose by only a nose to I'll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby. But he had no serious excuses in the Derby and wasn't accelerating in the final sixteenth when passed by Dullahan and Went The Day Well. He's going to have to run better this time to challenge the top two.

As for the rest, there's nothing to get even remotely excited about.

Off his big Beyer figure in the Sunland Derby, Daddy Nose Best was a bit of a wiseguy horse in the Derby, but he seemed outclassed in Louisville, where he finished 10th. Teeth of the Dog and Tiger Walk are coming off decent performances in the Wood Memorial, but that race doesn't look so good after Gemologist and Alpha were up the track in the Derby. Zetterholm has the Rick Dutrow-factor going for him but he's yet to win outside of restricted company. Even Ricky can't get this one to the winner's circle. Pretension, Optimizer and Cozzetti are too slow.

So think outside the box some other day. Pick another race to find that life-changing score you've been dreaming about.

Here's how to play the Preakness: Box Bodemeister and I'll Have Another in an exacta. Use Bodemeister and I'll Have Another on top in trifectas with Went The Day Well and Creative Cause in the second and third spots.

Boring? Yes. But boring is better than losing.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com