The 135th Preakness Stakes: Yes, I Know Who Calvin Borel Is

Calvin thanks the dude who sidelined the favorite, gave him an inside post, made it rain like crazy, and had Ice Box and Lucky run the gauntlet.  And fine, it was another fabulous ride for Rail Man!

When people find out that I am not betting on Super Saver to the win the Preakness, I fully expect to get a torrent of emails and maybe some phone calls desperately trying to wake me up to the facts.  “Brim, don’t you know who Calvin Borel is?  He’s the best jockey in the world.  You have to bet on the horse he’s riding.  Didn’t you know he’s won the Kentucky Derby three out of the last four years now?   That guy always wins!” 

Horse racing and investing have the following trait in common — at critical junctures, everyone thinks they’re an expert based on one or two painfully public truths they personally consider to be “inside information” from an obscure arena.  And it is true — because most people consider betting on the ponies to be in the same league with nosepicking and beer can collecting, any fact about the sport will seem like a piece of privileged minutia to proper folks.  But you have to trust me on this — I know who Calvin Borel is.  I know he’s a really good jockey.  And guess what — every yokel stumbling up to the window at Pimlico this Saturday might not know who Cigar was, or even what Ron Turcotte’s claim to fame was, but you can bet your last sixpack of National Bohemian they’ll know who Calvin is.  And they’re going to bet on him.  Because don’t you know, Calvin is the best jockey in the world.

Calvin is great.  I’m a huge fan.  He loves what he does.  He couldn’t be more humble, all things considered.  And nobody rides the rail at Churchill Downs like he does.  But Calvin does not win every race.  As of the printing of the Past Performances for the Preakness, Calvin was 63 for 325 in the year 2010 — that’s an impressive 19% winning rate, but it sure ain’t every race.

And Calvin absolutely deserved to the win the Derby on Super Saver.  Solid horse, perfect trip, shortest route around the track.  That’s why he was only 8 to 1 when he probably should have been at least 15 to 1 based on the horse’s prior efforts.  I didn’t bet him — even though the sloppy track was in his favor — because the odds were too low.  Which is the exact same reason I’m not going to bet him again.

The checkout clerk at the grocery store, my mom, half the people who read my drivel, and the normal-looking people you rarely see at the OTB — they’re all going to bet on Calvin Borel and Super Saver.  And by the time we get to post, Super Saver is going to be something stupid like 8 to 5.  That insinuates that his chance to win the Preakness (after accounting for the house take, or “vig”) is around 35%.  I can absolutely assure you that the real chance is considerably lower than that.

While Super Saver got a perfect rail ride in the Derby, Ice Box (the runner-up) and Lookin at Lucky (the Derby favorite and 6th place finisher) took paths around the Churchill Downs oval that looked like scenes from an Indiana Jones movie.  If you “divide through” by those horrific journeys, Ice Box and Lucky would have been 5 lengths ahead of the field, perhaps ding-donging it out through the wire while Super Saver got up for 3rd.  Super Saver’s 104 Beyer figure for the Derby was respectable, but it was among the slowest in recent times (Giacomo did a 100 in 2005, and every other winner since 1993 was faster than 104).  It was a case of a good horse with a great jockey getting a dream trip.

Despite being a great guy and a customer favorite, he doesn’t have any real insights into Apple’s chance of going to $300, gold’s likelihood of going to $2000, or Calvin Borel’s chance of getting to the wire first on Saturday

So for Leg 2 of this year’s Triple Crown, I have to make my top selection star-crossed Lookin at Lucky (7), the tough-trip West Coaster I faded in the Derby.  This horse has had more bad trips than Robert Downey, Jr.  But he’s got a new jockey and a lucky number for the Preakness, and Charm City (Baltimore) is not only the home of most of the world’s stupidest people, it’s also the place where karma gets mended.  I’ll also be throwing some cabbage at two horses that looked good at times pre-Derby but couldn’t get into the Big Show — Schoolyard Dreams (2) and Pleasant Prince (3).

The way I see it, the real odds of each of these horses winning the Preakness are roughly:

  • Lookin at Lucky — 30%
  • Super Saver (8) — 20%
  • Schoolyard Dreams and Pleasant Prince — 10% each
  • The other 8 horses — total of 30%

That means for Lucky to be a good bet, he has to be at least 5 to 2 (which he will be — more like 7 to 2).   Super and Calvin will be 8 to 5, which makes them an “underlay”.  My two longer shots will be at least 10 to 1 each, so if you believe my 10% probability, they should both be good bets as well.

Schoolyard Dreams made a huge midrace move in the Tampa Bay Derby, only to get nipped by Odysseus at the finish (the big O didn’t get to the Derby either).  SD stunk it up in the Wood Memorial, but so did everyone by comparison with Eskendereya, and since then, his workouts have been sizzling.  Pleasant Prince lost by a nose to Ice Box in the Florida Derby, and has had two bad races since — one on a Polytrack surface, and another in the slop.  I’m betting he rebounds on a fast Pimlico track.

Quickly I’ll take you through my thoughts on the rest of the field:

  • Aikenite (1) — not that fast, doesn’t look like he wants to go a mile and 3/16ths (the Preakness distance).
  • Northern Giant (4) — he won’t be a giant in Maryland.  No fast races, and he only won at the maiden level.
  • Yawanna Twist (5) — Trainer Rick Dutrow always commands respect even though he’s kind of a schmuck.  (Big Brown is his #1 claim to fame.)  Yawanna Twist was 2nd in the Illinois Derby behind American Lion, who was mediocre in the real Derby.  He could hit the board, I guess.
  • Jackson Bend (6) — Nick Zito’s other horse, after Ice Box.  The absence of a real pacesetter in this race could help him.  I just don’t see him passing anyone in the last eighth of a mile.  Include him in your supers.
  • Caracortado (9) — another West Coast Derby hopeful who, in my opinion, ended up being second-rate.  I’ll pass.
  • Paddy O’Prado (10) — game third place in the Derby, took a surprising amount of money in that race.  Was thought of as a turf horse before that.  I’m thinking he still is.  Not sure he’ll like a hard, fast dirt track on Saturday.  But the Churchill swells were all over him.  Let him beat me.
  • First Dude (11) — has never run genuinely fast, but he does have Ramon Dominguez riding him.  Doubt he’ll finish in the top half.
  • Dublin (12) — coming off a decent 7th in the Derby.  Has never looked like a horse that wanted to finish.  Love his daddy (Afleet Alex), but can’t see him closing the deal.

Only slightly less prestigious than the Preakness itself are the frequent Port-a-Potty races, where loaded yopie-dopes dodge an “aluminum curtain” of beer cans (usually full) in their quest to save time crossing the mass of humanity.  There are no losers in these efforts, as either a memory of courage and folly is imprinted for eternity, or a spectacular crash ensues, sometimes bringing the occupied stalls down on one side.  There’s a Preakness surprise one will never forget!

So anyhow hon, here’s the field of 12 for the running of the 135th Preakness Stakes from the picaresque Cro-Magnon village of Baltimore, Maryland:

Post Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1. Aikenite Javier Castellano Todd Pletcher 20-1
2. Schoolyard Dreams Eibar Coa Derek Ryan 10-1
3. Pleasant Prince Julien Leparoux Wesley Ward 20-1
4. Northern Giant Terry Thompson D. Wayne Lukas 30-1
5. Yawanna Twist Edgar Prado Richard Dutrow, Jr. 30-1
6. Jackson Bend Mike Smith Nick Zito 12-1
7. Lookin At Lucky Martin Garcia Bob Baffert 3-1
8. Super Saver Calvin Borel Todd Pletcher 5-2
9. Caracortado Paul Atkinson Mike Machowsky 10-1
10. Paddy O’ Prado Kent Desormeaux Dale Romans 9-2
11. First Dude Ramon Dominguez Dale Romans 20-1
12. Dublin Garrett Gomez D. Wayne Lukas 10-1

Rather than parsing it all out for you ungrateful Klingons, I’m just going to link you to the DRF Preakness Page to get all the junk you need to feign intelligence for your friends, who like my friends, will be giving you a lot of cement-head crap if you don’t take 8 to 5 on the world’s greatest jockey.  And G-d help us if Calvin wins, as there is nothing more painful than I-told-you-so’s from the Easter Catholics of horse racingOn the other hand, I do have Belmont tickets again, and despite all the overcrowded lunacy, there is nothing like the 10 minutes before the start of the Belmont Stakes when the Triple Crown is live.  Especially if for some perverse reason you love this game like I do.

And sure, you could lose $50 all by yourself, but why not take my suggestions below and have someone to blame for it:

Port-a-Potty Track

$10 win on the 7 ($10)

$5 exacta box — 2,3,7  ($30)

$1 trifecta part wheel — 7 over 2,3  over 2,3,5,8 ($6)

$1 trifecta saver on Calvin — 8 over 2,3 over 2,3,7 ($4)

Checkout Clerk Track

$3 exacta box — 2,3,7,8 ($36)

$1 trifecta part wheel — 7 over 2,3,8 over 2,3,5,8,10 ($12)

$2 win on the 8 (the Calvin souvenir saver) ($2)

I think it is interesting to note that those of you who followed my “Warrior Track” from the Derby lost all your money, while those of you who aligned with the “Society of Actuaries Track” did a little better than doubling your money!  There’s a lesson there — one an actuary should have learned long ago.  Alas, not this one.

One last note: Don’t get me wrong.  I love Baltimore.  I lived and worked there, and would do it again.  My old man grew up there.  I have family there.  And I’ll be an Orioles fan until the day I die.  But denying the obvious helps no one.  This is a town where you can’t take anything for granted.

Good luck dodging those beer cans!

Your partner in ennui navigation,

Captain America

9 Responses to “The 135th Preakness Stakes: Yes, I Know Who Calvin Borel Is”

  1. Mark Esswein Says:

    Way to work in those Charm City references. Do they even make Natty Bo anymore?

  2. Timothy Peach Says:

    Are you kidding me?

    The Washington Post recently had a taste test, and guess what?

    Overall Winner
    National Bohemian
    Combined score: 7.14286 (Taste: 3.7/5; Refreshment: 3.4/5)
    Price: $8/12-pack at DeVino’s in Columbia Heights
    The surprise winner was Baltimore’s own Natty Boh, which testers rated highest on flavor and third for refreshment. Some of the praise: “The best one — actually tastes like beer!” “High carbonation and the most hops.” “Zesty … got a little more kick.”

    Actually tastes like beer! Is there higher praise than that?

  3. Mark Esswein Says:

    Hmm… I’ll have to look on the cheap beer shelf next time I’m in the grocery store

    I was always a Nat Premium fan myself and was really disappointed when I discovered that neither was available at Camden Yards

  4. Mark Esswein Says:

    Oh, and National Premium and crabcake sandwiches were two of my favorite things at Memorial Stadium!

  5. Sandeep Says:

    Can you short him?

    • Timothy Peach Says:

      I think you can only directly short horses on offshore gambling websites, which we all know are illegal. They have “head-to-head” matchups between two horses in the race, so if your pick beats the other, that’s good enough. Doesn’t matter where they finish.

      But you’ll have to settle for betting on other horses, because I know how squeaky-clean and law-abiding you are.

      • Mark Grannis Says:

        Oh, thank goodness the government doesn’t permit offshore gambling on horses. That would be so much more of a menace than domestic gambling on horses. Or domestic gambling on the performance of mortgage-backed securities.

        • Timothy Peach Says:

          We have to be protected against offshore gambling, Granulous. Offshore gambling is the straw that — when combined with the straws of “investing”, casino gambling, onshore horse betting (physical and internet), lotteries, bingo at Churches, office pools, and dating — would break the camel’s back. It would also piss off folks who benefit from onshore gambling who give money to Congressman.

          So for those two reasons, we need to be protected.

  6. Sandeep Says:

    Gambling has two diverging goals – pump adrenalin in a rich man’s blood and tax the poor. Onshore/ offshore just control commissions/ bribes.

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