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Jockey Javier Castellano on Mage races during the 149th Kentucky Derby as we look at our free Preakness Stakes picks and predictions
US-Venezuelan Jockey Javier Castellano on Mage races during the 149th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 6, 2023. Mage won the 149th Kentucky Derby, launching US racing's Triple Crown campaign even as two more horse deaths on Saturday cast a pall on proceedings at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Leandro Lozada via AFP.

There are only seven horses in the 148th running of the Preakness Stakes, the smallest field since 1986. And yet, parsing the Preakness odds runs into several paradoxes that provide horseplayers a tricky puzzle. We'll explore with our free Preakness Stakes picks and predictions based on the odds from our best horse racing betting sites

Since 2000, 10 favorites found the Pimlico Race Course winner’s circle. Oxbow at 15-1 in 2013 is the longest shot to win the Preakness this century. Seven horses between 2010 and 2019 won the second jewel to Triple Crown with single-digit Preakness Stakes odds. 

And yet, Justify in 2018 was the last favorite to win the Preakness. Since then, we’ve celebrated War of Will (6-1), filly Swiss Skydiver (11-1), Rombauer (11-1) and last year’s winner, Early Voting (6-1).

That doesn’t bode well for 8-11 morning-line favorite and Kentucky Derby champion Mage, which leads us into another bendable trend. Only five times this century has a horse taken Derby weekend off and captured the Preakness.

Unfortunately for Mage, the only horse of the 18 Derby starters going to Pimlico, three of those have happened since 2017, when Cloud Computing romped home at 13-1. That includes the last two: Rombauer and Early Voting. The last Derby horse to win the Preakness was War of Will in 2019.

Recency bias, anyone?

Here are our top free Preakness Stakes picks and predictions for 2023 at Pimlico Race Course (odds via our best horse racing betting sites; pick confidence based on a 1-to-5-star scale).

Preakness Stakes odds

(Preakness Stakes odds last updated Friday, May 19)

PostHorseMorning-Line Odds
1National Treasure9-4
2Chase the Chaos80-1
5Red Route One20-1
7Blazing Sevens7-1
*First MissionSCRATCHED

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Preakness Stakes picks and predictions

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Seven-out: Blazing Sevens (Post 7/7-1)

Where do we start explaining why Blazing Sevens is snake-eyes on your tickets? For starters, he’s a closer in a race that isn’t kind to that genus. Yes, you want a closer on your tickets, but you don’t want them topping your tickets. And you certainly don’t want this one, because there are better late runners in this field, starting with 8-5 morning-line favorite and Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

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Second, Blazing Sevens looks like he peaked at 2 when he bookended wins in his debut and the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes around a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. Since the calendar flipped to 2023, Blazing Sevens has a woeful eighth by 26 lengths in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and a worse-than-it-looks third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, where he finished a distant six lengths behind Tapit Trice and Verifying. Each time, he’s lost ground in the stretch, indicating an inability to handle two turns or 9 1/2 furlongs.

Third, Blazing Sevens is going to take plenty of money, thanks to his connections: trainer Chad Brown and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Brown captured the Preakness last year with Early Voting and in 2017 with Cloud Computing—both times after bypassing the Kentucky Derby. Bettors haven’t forgotten this, so combined with the Brown-Ortiz duo, you can expect Blazing Sevens’ odds to drop lower than his already underlay 6-1. There’s no lucky seven forthcoming here.

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Key this Preakness Stakes long shot: Perform (Post 6/20-1)

To give you an idea of how confident the owners of this Good Magic progeny are about his chances, they paid a $150,000 supplemental fee to get Perform into the Pimlico starting gate for Saturday. Last year, the owners of Creative Minister did the same thing—and watched their colt finish third to Early Voting and eventual Champion, three-year-old Epicenter.

But wait, didn’t it take Perform six tries to break his maiden? Hasn’t he run only one stakes race, and it wasn’t a graded stakes? Yes, yes, and yes.

But a fundamental rule of this game is horses—like humans—develop at different times. Once Perform broke his maiden in a one-mile, 40-yard race at Tampa Bay Downs by nearly three lengths, something clicked. He parlayed that into a roller-coaster head victory in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park. That race, which got Perform into the Preakness, featured a horrible start, traffic on the backstretch, a slalom trip around horses down the stretch, and a late surge at the wire.

In those two races—both at two turns—Perform has boosted his Equibase Speed Figure by a combined 20 points. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, is a wizard with late-bloomer colts. And Perform’s pedigree features plenty of speed, class, and stamina.

To sum up, you’re getting an in-form colt at double-digit odds who may not win but needs to be on your exacta, trifecta, and superfecta tickets somewhere.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MAY 19: National Treasure goes over the track during a training session ahead of the 148th Running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 19, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. Patrick Smith/Getty Images/AFP

Our Favorite: National Treasure (Post 1/9-4)

No, that’s not a typo. We didn’t mean to type “Mage” here. Not because we don’t like the Kentucky Derby winner, who could easily win this race and not raise an eyebrow doing so. But we don’t like the lack of value, don’t like closers at the Preakness, aren’t thrilled about the expected modest pace, don’t like Mage’s penchant for slow starts, and don’t want to shove our way onto a crowded bandwagon.

So what do we like? Front-end speed, which National Treasure has. We really like it in this race, one where there isn’t any need-the-lead blazers other than the overmatched, out-of-his-element Coffeewithchris. With First Mission out, National Treasure should find himself setting the pace or letting Coffeewithchris set it until that local product realizes he’s in his first graded stakes race and fades into the Maryland evening.

What else do we like? National Treasure’s new blinkers, which should help the Quality Road colt focus on exploiting his natural speed. National Treasure’s last three Equibase Speed Figures are 101 (Santa Anita Derby), 101 (Sham Stakes) and 100 (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile). He finished third in the Sham and BC Juvenile and a troubled, traffic-laden fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. But he was within 3 ½ lengths of the winner in each race and it’s worth noting the BC Juvenile and Santa Anita Derby are annually two of the top races in the division for elite 2- and 3-year-olds.

And yes, there’s one more thing we like here: Bob Baffert. The Hall of Fame trainer is back in the Triple Crown mix after his medication-related suspension stemming from the Derby two years ago. Any time Baffert saddles a colt in a 3-year-old race merits attention, examination—and often a wager or three. In case you need further convincing about the racetrack mantra, “Don’t bet against Baffert,” the white-haired trainer owns seven Preakness titles, and a victory here would give him his record eighth.

If anyone can unlock the keys to the Triple Crown treasure chest—even with an unfocused, yet talented, colt—it’s Baffert. We’re all-in on this Treasure hunt.

Preakness Stakes info

Date: Saturday, May 20, 6:50 p.m. ET
Location: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, MD
How to watch: NBC coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET
Purse: $1.5 million
Last year’s winner: Early Voting

What to know for betting the Preakness Stakes

So what kind of horse wins Preaknesses? As the shortest of the Triple Crown races at 1 3/16 miles, the Preakness opens its winner’s circle to a variety of running styles. 

You can win from the front, like Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018). Or like Oxbow (2013), Big Brown (2010), Smarty Jones (2004) or Funny Cide (2003). You can win pressing the pace-setters, like Early Voting last year, Swiss Skydiver (2020) or California Chrome (2014) Or you can win by stalking; see Rombauer (2021), War of Will (2019), Cloud Computing (2017), and I’ll Have Another (2012).

What about closers? Well, not for the top of your ticket. The last closer to win the Preakness was Exaggerator in 2016, who benefited from a sloppy track to be the only champion closer in the last 12 years.

Preakness Stakes betting strategies

How do you construct your betting tickets? Remember when we said closers aren’t for Preakness coffee, to paraphrase the classic line from “Glengarry Glen Ross”? Well, when it comes to constructing your vertical exotics: exactas, trifectas, and superfectas, you need closers on the back end of your tickets.

History demands it. Because closers may not win the Preakness, but they have a remarkable habit of hitting the board—and bringing ridiculous payouts along for the ride. 

Three years ago, Jesus’ Team finished third at 40-1. In 2019 Everfast finished second at 29-1. The year before that, Justify won the Preakness at 2-5. But Tenfold ran second at 26-1. Senior Investment became a profitable savings plan in 2017 when he finished third at 31-1. And in 2015, Tale of Verve balanced American Pharoah’s 4-5 odds in winning the Preakness when he finished second at 28-1.

Again, Mage is a closer who could easily win the Preakness. The class is clearly there, illustrated by the fact he’s already beaten better horses than what he’ll see here two weeks ago at Churchill Downs. But recent history suggests you top your ticket with a horse containing front-end speed.

Preakness Stakes picks made 5/18/2023 at 8:45 a.m. ET

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