By Kevin Martin

The top three finishers from this year’s Kentucky Derby will return Saturday in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland. Derby winner American Pharoah will face off against Firing Line and Dortmund. Only two other entries from the Derby – Danzig Moon and Mr. Z – will join them in the gate at Pimlico. Three colts that did not start in the Derby will round out the field of eight – the smallest field for the Preakness since 2000.

While its exciting to see the trifecta from the big Kentucky race in the Preakness, the small and top-heavy field makes the race a somewhat unappealing proposition for bettors. The decision by trainer Todd Pletcher to skip the Preakness with sixth place Derby finisher Materiality, removed a prime contender to upset American Pharoah at a square price. Having said that, the Preakness is a race that everyone in the racing world (and beyond) will be watching so any horseplayer with a pulse is compelled to get in the action.

American Pharoah will be the overwhelming favorite to repeat his Derby performance and is the most likely winner of the race. However, at such a short price, he offers limited value for wagering. Firing Line who finished second by a length in the Derby is the likely second choice. As good as he has been in his short career, he has yet to win a fight against elite company. His Derby was a repeat of his graded stakes races early this year in California where he settled for second when challenged in the stretch. Betting Firing Line to win the Preakness at a potentially short price, would be a bet against a trend.

Dortmund suffered the first loss of his career when finishing third in the Derby. He set a relatively easy pace on the lead but could not keep up with the top two. He ran hard in the stretch but lacked the tenacity to stay in front as he had done in all of his previous starts. Was it the Derby distance that finally caught up with him? Did the additional eighth of a mile finally expose a weakness? Or did he just have a bad day on the first Saturday of May? Finishing third in the Derby is pretty good for a bad day but he is a proven winner against proven competition and, based on his past performances, he did not run his best in the Derby. He’s the likely third betting choice with post-time odds expected to hover around 4-1. That is a square price if you chalk up his Kentucky Derby to an uncharacteristic average performance.

Danzig Moon exited the Kentucky Derby with a fifth place finish but is expected to be among the longshots on Saturday. His pedigree indicates a fondness for an off-track so his outlook improves if the expected rain comes to Pimlico on Saturday. His win chances – no matter what the track condition – are long but he could offer some value in the third and fourth positions of the trifecta and superfecta.

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The late entry Mr. Z finished thirteenth in the Derby. Like Danzig Moon, he has run against elite company in his career but has never finished better than second in his ten attempts in graded stakes. He has a chance to finish at the bottom of the exoctic bets but is a tier (or two) below the top three.

The remainder of the field – Tale of Verve, Bodhisattva, and Diving Rod – will all be well deserved long shots. The top three are legitimate class and the bottom three have resumes that offer no evidence they can compete for a significant piece of the Preakness purse.

The $100 Bet

Dortmund was my pick to win the Derby. I’m going to forgive him for that performance and pick him to turn the tables on the top two this Saturday. The slightly shorter distance of the Preakness and the likelihood of another manageable pace makes him a solid play at odds of 3-1 or better.

I will use half my $100 bankroll and put it on Dortmund’s nose to win. I’ll take the other half and box him in an exacta with American Pharoah. It’s not the most creative bet but it’s a short field and there’s a long history of success for Derby winners and favorites in the Preakness. Dortmund and American Pharoah were the best 3-year-olds in the country two weeks ago and nothing happened at Churchill Downs to change that opinion as we countdown to the Preakness.

How to Place the Bet

When it comes to placing the wagers proposed here, it requires some knowledge in the language of betting on horse races. When placing a bet, you need to use the track name, race number, type and amount of the bet, and the program number(s) for the horse(s) you are playing.

A $50 win bet on Dortmund would sound like this:

“Pimlico race 13, $50 to win on the 2.” (The Preakness Stakes is the 13th race at Pimlico on Saturday.)

We’ll play a $25 exacta box with Dortmund and American Pharoah. We are boxing those two so if they finish first and second – in either order – we win the bet. Ask for the bet as follows:

Pimlico race 13, $25 exacta box with the 1 and 2. (That is two bets for a total of $50.)

That’s it! With a short field there is no use in spreading the bet thin or trying to get too fancy. Our ideal scenario is for Dortmund to win and American Pharoah to run second. We cash both bets if that happens. We will also cash – for much less – if American Pharoah wins and Dortmund is second.

If American Pharoah does it again and Dortmund runs another dud then we look forward to a Triple Crown try at Belmont Park in three weeks.

Of course, it’s more fun to make your own picks. You can learn how to do that at Hello Race Fans. They also have a cheat sheet with a rundown of all the Preakness starters as well as a look at payouts for bets on the Preakness Stakes since 1990

Kevin Martin is the founder of the thoroughbred racing history site Colin’s Ghost and a contributing editor at Hello Race Fans