It was hard to miss Saturday, wasn’t it? Pari-mutuel betting on Preakness 2022 looked out of whack all day in ways that led to muttering at Pimlico and kneejerk reaction on that bastion of indignation known as social media.
Was this a case of the betting public at large saying, “Fool me once with an 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner, shame on me. But don’t fool me twice.”?
“I don’t know whether it was the Rich Strike phenomenon,” said Marshall Gramm, an accomplished horseplayer, author and economics professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. “On these big days we get crazy betting.”
Crazy, yes. But this was exceptional. How was Fenwick, a maiden winner still eligible for “a other than” races who was 50-1 on the morning line, actually 7-1 on Saturday morning before he finally closed as a 13-1 underlay?
This same horse who has three last-place finishes was easily the longest shot in the rolling double that carried over from the race preceding the Preakness. It showed a $577 return if Fenwick had won. No other Preakness horse was longer than $400, and eventual winner Early Voting was worth $24.60.
In the $2 double combining Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2) with the Preakness, Fenwick would have paid $1,214.40. No other horse was longer than $1,000. Early Voting wound up cashing for $101.
Gramm said it was not just Fenwick. He said bettors lumped Happy Jack (11-1), Skippylongstocking (12-1) and Armagnac (18-1) into the pari-mutuel conversation.
“All four of the long shots were really, really over-bet,” he said. “Happy Jack should have been about 45-1. Fenwick should have been between 60-1 and 70-1. They reduced win takeout by 11.84 percent. Remarkable.”
Mark Midland of Horse Racing Nation was not shocked. In fact, he pointed out that this was a repeat of history.
“When a huge bomb wins the Derby, they bet every single horse in the Preakness,” Midland said.
Cases in point: When Giacomo and Mine That Bird came through as 50-1 winners in the Derby, bettors chased big odds in the Preakness. There was no one longer than 27-1 in the 14-horse Preakness in 2005 and 25-1 with 13 starters in 2009.
“Years ago when I was working at Monmouth in the publicity department, we had to field calls from the outside public,” Midland said. “For the Preakness and Belmont, I took calls from people who asked me to read them the names and numbers of the longest shots on the board. That’s it.”
HRN’s Ed DeRosa was not as convinced this was the case. He felt this running of the Preakness was an outlier that he never had seen before.
“You can’t have a horse be 80-1 in a $1 million double pool and 13-1 in the win pool and seriously think that’s a bunch of Joe Blows taking a flyer on a long shot,” he said. “Two horses (Happy Jack and Fenwick) with a 1 percent chance to win both took 6 percent of the money. It’s incredible.”
With $14,650,560 in the win pool, Midland noted that it did not take very much money to influence the odds. Happy Jack attracted $928,654 in win bets; Fenwick $845,448.
“Honestly, $14 million is a pretty small win pool for one of the three biggest races of the year,” Midland said. “Maybe across the entire country an extra $500,000 got bet on the two long shots. And $500,000 is only 25,000 people betting $20 on each horse. That’s nothing.”
In the end, all that money bet into the win pool on the long shots was lost, just like all the money bet on Epicenter, who was a clear favorite in all the pools.
“Before we feel sorry for the casual fans who were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on hopeless horses, remember that they made all that money on Rich Strike,” Gramm said. “They crushed the Derby – and then bet the Preakness moronically. But I would have thought Rich Strike would have been a moronic play in the Derby. Either way, they took some of the Rich Strike money, put it on Happy Jack and Fenwick and lost some of it back. It made the prices on the other horses, especially Early Voting, really good.”