Kentucky Derby winner Mage will continue his Triple Crown quest in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, and he’ll do so against one of the smallest fields in recent history.
The lightly raced colt became the 8-5 morning-line favorite Monday after post positions were drawn for the eight horses entered in the race.
If there are any scratches between now and Saturday evening, the Preakness will have its smallest field in at least more than 30 years. Equibase has racing chart data for each Preakness dating back to 1991. Only four Preakness since then — 1991, 2000, 2015, and 2018 — featured a field of eight, and none had a smaller field.
The last two times it happened, the Preakness winner would go on to win the Triple Crown. You can keep up with the latest Preakness Stakes odds with BetKentucky.com.
That’s not the only historical footnote associated with the race. According to Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier Journal, this year’s Preakness marks the first time since 1948 that only one horse raced in the Kentucky Derby.
Those factors could have an impact on bettors’ interest in the race.
Fewer Horses Good For Mage's Odds
Last year, when Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike skipped the race, only $55.7 million was wagered on the Preakness. That was nearly an 18% drop from the record $67.7 million handle the 2021 edition of the race generated.
Last year’s Preakness featured a field of nine horses.
While the Preakness can’t take 20 horses like the Derby, it can hold a field of up to 14. But that hasn’t happened since 2011, and only once since then has the race featured more than 11 horses. That was in 2019 when 13 raced.
Generally speaking, larger fields equate to larger handles. In 2019, bettors wagered $62 million on the race, and in 2005, when 14 ran, the handle was $63.2 million.
Further, the Preakness will not feature Mage’s rival Forte, the Kentucky Derby odds favorite scratched by a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission veterinarian on the day of the race. That put Forte on a 14-day list precluding him from racing. Forte, who beat Mage in both the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby leading up to the Kentucky Derby, has also made news in recent days with reports of him failing a drug test in a race last year in New York.
Baffert's Return Could Boost Wagering
There are a couple of factors that may help increase wagering in the Preakness or at least mitigate a possible decline.
First, this year’s Preakness marks the return of trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert sat out last year’s Triple Crown races as he served a 90-day suspension handed down by Kentucky officials after Medina Spirit was disqualified as the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner due to a failed drug test. Baffert also missed this year’s Derby due to a separate two-year ban Churchill Downs placed on him at its tracks.
Medina Spirit ran in the 2021 Preakness along with nine other horses. As noted above, that race set the record for handle.
In addition, this will be the first Preakness where wagering on the race will be available through FanDuel.
Two weeks ago, Churchill Downs announced a record $188.7 million handle. That was despite only 18 horses running in the race and the late scratch of presumed favorite Forte.
While the record handle was a 5.4% increase over the previous record set last year, some betting pools saw significantly higher increases. For instance, bets to win accounted for $60.9 million of this year’s handle. That was a 22.5% increase from the $49.7 million wagered to win in the 2022 Derby.
FanDuel Kentucky Sportsbook has not released any information, but it is highly likely that the it brought in new bettors by allowing them to bet on the race through its app that features both a sportsbook and a racebook. Those new bettors would also be more likely to make simpler wagers, like a bet to win, instead of an exotic, like a superfecta or super Hi-5.
While mobile sports betting is not legal just yet in Kentucky, it is in Maryland, and FanDuel is the most popular sports betting app in the state, according to data from Maryland Lottery and Gaming.
So, it’s very likely this year’s Preakness will have a larger pool of bettors interested in the race, thanks to FanDuel.
Last year, bettors wagered nearly $14.7 million on horses to win the Preakness, down from $16.2 million in 2021. It will be worth watching to see how much is bet in that pool for this year’s race.