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Historic Preakness, Like Other 2020 Triple Crown Races, Sees Sharp Decline in Handle

Saturday was a historic day at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, as Swiss Skydiver became just the sixth filly to win the Preakness Stakes. But unfortunately, neither a history-making run nor a dramatic race to the wire with Kentucky Derby winner Authentic could prevent the sharp downturn in handle.

Swiss Skydiver (inside) held off Kentucky Derby winner Authentic to win the 2020 Preakness Stakes on Saturday. (Image: SI.com)

Only $51.2 million was bet on the 12-race Preakness card, according to a figure provided by Equibase. That was down 48.7 percent from last year’s record handle of nearly $100 million. Pimilco’s schedule Saturday did include two fewer races, but the biggest culprit for the decline was the COVID-19 crisis that forced massive changes to horse racing’s Triple Crown.

The Preakness’ drop-off almost mirrored this year’s Kentucky Derby handle, which went from a record $250.9 million last year to just $126 million this year. In June, the Belmont Stakes generated $67.8 million, down about a third from the $102.2 million wagered in 2019. That, too, was a record total last year, albeit for a Belmont where the Triple Crown was not on the line

Traditionally the second leg in the annual three-race series, the Preakness was bumped to the final leg and was nearly five months off from its traditional date, two weeks after the Derby. The Derby, too, ran on Labor Day weekend instead of its customary first Saturday in May date, and the Belmont, the anchor leg in early June, ended up being the first out of the gate, even with a couple weeks delay.

In addition, no fans were allowed at any of the tracks, as officials limited attendance to just owners, horsemen, and select officials. That left the only wagering to take place online. While that’s where the majority of the pari-mutuel handle is wagered, the Preakness typically draws well more than 100,000 people

Other Factors Harm Preakness Betting

Two other factors that may have depressed turnout for the Preakness include the lack of Triple Crown drama, thanks to Authentic beating Belmont winner Tiz the Law last month. In addition, while the Kentucky Derby faced-off against some college football action, this past Saturday featured a much more robust football schedule, especially with several SEC teams in play.

As for betting on the Preakness itself, it too mirrored the decline. According to figures from the Equibase chart on the race, only $31.7 million was bet on the main event, down 49.5 percent from last year’s $62.8 million. Win-place-show betting went from $21.8 million last year to just $9.8 million on Saturday, a 54.8 percent decrease.

History Made in Dramatic Fashion

Swiss Skydiver rewarded her supporters handsomely. Oddsmakers set her as the co-third choice at 6-1 in the morning line. But most bettors shied away, causing her odds to nearly double to 11-1 at post time.

For the first half of the race, she stalked Authentic and Thousand Words, the two Bob Baffert entries who vied for the early lead. As Thousand Words couldn’t keep up with the Derby winner on the backstretch, Robby Albarado, Swiss Skydiver’s jockey, saw his opportunity and guided his colt along the rail next to Authentic.

By the time the front-runners hit the stretch, they had put themselves well ahead of the pack. Racing side-by-side, the filly gained a slight advantage and held onto it, winning by a neck on a photo finish.

It was a classic finish reminiscent of the legendary duel between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer 31 years ago.

I thought it looked like Authentic got his head in front a little bit and then she fought right back,” said Kenny McPeek, her trainer. “There’s no guarantees in this game, and I have had some tough beats. Second in the Derby, been second in a bunch of Breeders’ Cup races, third here in the Preakness years back. But I’m just thrilled she fought on.”

With the win, Swiss Skydiver became the first filly to win the Preakness since Rachel Alexandra won it 2009, and just the second to win the race in 96 years.

She paid $25.40 to win, $8.40 to place, and $5.80 to show. Authentic, the 3-2 favorite, paid $3.60 and $3.20. Longshot Jesus’ Team (40-1) beat second-choice Art Collector (2-1) for show by a head and paid $12.20.

The collection of big prices on the board led to some nice payouts on the exotics, including a $1,205 trifecta.

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