Is Justify the Sharp Play in the Preakness Stakes?

Is Justify the Sharp Play in the Preakness Stakes? article feature image

Preakness Stakes. Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

The 143rd Preakness Stakes takes place on Saturday (6:20 p.m. ET.) at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.  Kentucky Derby winner Justify is the betting favorite with 4-9 odds.


Before the “Run for the Roses” we explained that betting the Derby was as easy as going chalk. In the last 50 years, 17 favorites (counting co-favorites) won America’s greatest race. With Justify’s victory, the favorite has won more than half the races since 2000, including six straight.

A $2 wager, the minimum bet amount required, on the favorite in the 19 Derby races since 2000 (a $38 total investment) has returned $85.60 for a 125% return on investment (ROI). In the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” going chalk has been profitable. Is betting the favorite the sharp play in the Preakness Stakes as well?

Since 1968, the betting favorite has won 22 of the last 50 Preakness Stakes. The 44.0% win rate is better than that of the favorites (34.0%) in the Kentucky Derby. The smaller field at Pimlico is a big reason the chalk has been successful in the “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans”. A crowded field of 20 entered the starting gates at the Kentucky Derby this year; that number has been reduced to eight for Saturday’s race.

The favorite wins more at the Preakness than it does at the Kentucky Derby, but the payouts aren’t as sweet. Over the last 50 years, Preakness favorites have an ROI of 12.6% compared to 17.4% in the Derby.

The average odds for the betting favorite during the last half-century in the Preakness were 1.4, nearly half that of the Kentucky Derby favorite (2.7 odds). Because the Derby is so unpredictable, favorites are available at longer odds, which offers better returns than they do at the Preakness.

Justify is undefeated in four starts and the odds-on favorite Saturday. His trainer Bob Baffert has never lost the Preakness with a Derby winner. His previous Derby winners, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem and American Pharoah, each won at Pimlico. Only American Pharoah completed the Triple Crown.

History favors the chalk in the Preakness. Despite a smaller payout, betting the favorite is a profitable strategy, just as it is in the Kentucky Derby.

As a contrarian bettor, I typically play underdogs and fade the public. But this weekend I’ll be cheering for Justify to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.

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