Do Beaten Kentucky Derby Favorites Win The Preakness?

Do Beaten Kentucky Derby Favorites Win The Preakness?
© USA Today

Earlier this month, Epicenter was the Kentucky Derby betting favorite and looked like a winner in deep stretch until passed late and upstaged by 80-1 long shot Rich Strike in a shocking upset.

The connections of Rich Strike have opted to bypass the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, and wait for the Belmont Stakes. 

But Epicenter is back. Listed at 6-5 on the morning line, Epicenter may be sent off at even shorter odds on Saturday at Pimlico in Baltimore.

As well as Epicenter ran in the Kentucky Derby, is he worth a wager at odds of even money or less?

From a visual point of view, the answer is yes. From a historic perspective, the answer is no.

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Epicenter’s Kentucky Derby

Rich Strike and jockey Sonny Leon deserve all the credit for winning Kentucky Derby 148. The longest shot on the board rallied from far back, altered course in the stretch, moved inside Epicenter and ran down the favorite in the final strides.

Epicenter had no visible excuses. But … 

A simple analysis of race pace indicates that Epicenter ran even better than it looked. 

The opening quarter mile (21.78 seconds) was the fastest in Kentucky Derby history and the first half mile (45.35) was also sizzling — less than half a second slower than the fastest on record. After that, the race inevitably fell apart and the closers had all the advantage.

While Epicenter wasn’t setting that crazy pace, he wasn’t far back, only five lengths behind the leaders at the half-mile pole. Every horse that was ahead of Epicenter at that point would finish no better than 10th. 

Yet Epicenter hung around, and even held off second betting choice Zandon, before succumbing to Rich Strike. The winner clearly capitalized on that hot early pace. Rich Strike was 18th at the half mile, 18th after three-quarters of a mile and 15th at the mile marker before surging past a lot of tired horses in the final quarter of a mile.

So while losing the world’s most famous horse race to an 80-1 shot was clearly disappointing, Epicenter was far from disgraced, and his performance makes him a deserving favorite in the Preakness on Saturday.

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Derby Favorites In Preakness History

Every year is different, but Preakness history has not been kind to Kentucky Derby runner-ups, especially if they are favored in the second jewel.

According to the Daily Racing Form, since 1961 only three of the 43 Kentucky Derby runner-ups that ran in the Preakness managed to win. Eleven were betting favorites and only Prairie Bayou (2-1) in 1993 managed to win as the Preakness betting favorite. That was nearly 30 years ago — and also the last time a horse has followed a Derby runner-up finish with a Preakness victory. 

Of course, several Kentucky Derby winners went on to win the Preakness in the past decade, including Justify (2018) and American Pharoah (2015), who both would win the Triple Crown.

In 2021, Essential Quality was sent off as the Derby favorite and finished fourth (third after the winner was disqualified), then skipped the Preakness and won the Belmont Stakes. Rombauer, who did not run in the Derby, rallied to win the Preakness at 11-1. 

There is clearly a growing trend to give horses more time than the two weeks between the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. As a result, fewer Kentucky Derby horses are competing in the Preakness, which could eventually lead to a change in the spacing of the Triple Crown races.

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Bottom Line

Epicenter ran against a tougher and bulkier field in the Derby than he will face in the Preakness. Epicenter will be facing two horses he already beat on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, and several others who failed to qualify for the Derby field. On paper, this is a significantly easier race.

For those reasons, and given how well Epicenter ran in the Derby, it’s easy to understand why he’s such a short price in the Preakness.

That said, you will be taking even money or less on a horse coming off two weeks rest in a race that history says doesn’t favor Kentucky Derby runner-ups. And there are a few potentially attractive alternatives, such as Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, Wood Memorial runner-up Early Voting, and Simplification, who finished fourth in the Derby. 

For those who back Epicenter, at least you won’t be run down late by Rich Strike this time. 

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