While gambling is hardwired into the DNA of all sports, horse racing is one of a select few that openly embrace the monetary debauchery.
There are sanctioned tickets at almost every track across the nation, and horse racing isn't only for the high rollers of the world. Smaller tickets worth mere dollars are available to everyone in attendance, just for those looking to get a mini-thrill. One of my youngest memories is a friend's parents having us each pick up a horse and getting a $2 ticket for us to play. (We lost. And then I cried. Loudly.)
Most of the money spent on horses prior to Saturday's 138th Preakness Stakes won't be of such a small sum. With just nine horses running in this year's field, there has been plenty of time for folks to get a good feel for how each of these horses will fare at the legendary Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
And once the morning lines came out earlier this week, the gambling odds have almost become a story in and of themselves. Orb, the winner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby, is one of the heaviest favorites in recent memory. He comes off at 10-11 odds, which has led to plenty of discussion about the merits of that placement.
But we're not going to focus on the odds for each individual horse in this space. That's been well-covered throughout the World Wide Web and anyone with a bookmark to Alta Vista and a dial-up connection can figure out how the favorites stack out.
Instead, we're going to take a look at the less predictable but arguably more fun prop bets. While the Preakness isn't the Super Bowl and there aren't betting odds on the national anthem length, there are a few attractive wagers actually pertaining to the race worth noting.
Here is a look at a few of the best prop bets as we prepare for Saturday's race.
Preakness Field and Odds
|1||Orb||Joel Rosario ||Shug McGaughey ||10-11|
|2||Goldencents ||Kevin Krigger ||Doug O’Neill ||8-1|
|3||Titletown Five||Julien Leparoux||D. Wayne Lukas||28-1|
|4||Departing||Brian Hernandez Jr||Albert M. Stall, Jr||13-2|
|5||Mylute||Rosie Napravnik||Tom Amoss||13-2|
|6||Oxbow||Gary Stevens||D. Wayne Lukas||16-1|
|7||Will Take Charge||Mike Smith||D. Wayne Lukas||12-1|
|8||Govenor Charlie||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||10-1|
|9||Itsmyluckyday||John Velazquez||Eddie Plesa Jr.||10-1|
Top Prop Bets (Via Bovada)
The Lock: Will Orb Finish in the Top 3? (Yes, -500)
If you even slightly believe in Orb, this prop might as well be called the "free money" bet. There are only nine horses in this field. Orb has a 33 percent chance of finishing somewhere within the first three positions by sheer basic probability. And considering Orb is the defending Kentucky Derby champion and rightful favorite of this race, the colt finishing outside the top three would be a profound shock to even the most strident detractors.
There is one major drawback of this bet—the astronomical deposit figure needed to make it worthwhile. It will cost $500 for anyone to win $100 on this prop. That's not a small amount of money, and even "free money" bets backfire sometimes. Horse racing remains one of the more unpredictable sports from a race-to-race basis because of the mitigating factors that not even jockeys can control.
With this one, you have to feel fully comfortable with Orb finishing inside the top three, which we do. He's the biggest favorite in this field and in the Triple Crown race since Big Brown in 2008, and has shown nothing but fine form throughout the process.
What we like most about this prop is the ability to hedge a bit. Most who have faith in Orb are going to take the 10-11 odds that he's going to win the race—even though they're slightly risky by themselves. Taking that number might be tempting on the surface, but it also affords nil in terms of wiggle room. If Orb gets off to a slow start and is pinched in behind by Goldencents in the No. 2 post for the first quarter-mile—a totally reasonable possibility—it may be just enough to deter him from actually winning the race.
But finishing outside the top three? We simply cannot see that happening, barring an injury. If you're willing to take a risk on a near-guarantee, here's your spot.
Other Orb bets worth considering: Will Orb win the Triple Crown? (Yes, +225), Orb over Departing (-225), Orb over Goldencents (-400).
Head-to-Head Matchup: Mylute vs. Goldencents (Mylute, -170)
The head-to-head props are completely straightforward: Who do you think will finish higher in the race? It doesn't matter whether these horses finish eighth and ninth or first and second at Pimlico—and that's the beauty of those picks.
Of any of the head-to-head matchups, we feel strongly about Mylute defeating Goldencents for a multitude of reasons. The first, of course, being their respective Kentucky Derby finishes. Mylute finished fifth at the Derby, but is the second-highest finisher among those headed to Pimlico.
Goldencents is coming off the most miserable finish of his career. After heading into the Derby with massive expectations following a triumph at the Santa Anita Derby, Goldencents finished 17th out of 19 horses participating in Lexington.
What's more, Mylute's surrounding pedigree suggests the three-year-old colt might be Orb's most strident contender on Saturday. Jockey Rosie Napravnik has become a national sensation in her quest to become the first woman to ever win the Preakness, and it's hard to bet against her history at this track.
Growing up in New Jersey, the 25-year-old Napravnik was a regular fixture at Pimlico in her youth. She won her first career race at the track and seems excited to get back on her home track.
‘‘It’s always an advantage if you know a track well,’’ Napravnik said (h/t The Boston Globe). ‘‘I won a lot of races at Pimlico and I like the track. I know the track like the back of my hand, and I appreciate that fact.’’
With Goldencents struggling and a bunch of signs pointing in Mylute's favor, this one seems like a no-brainer.
Just for Fun: Margin of Victory: Under 1.5 Lengths (-120)
Remember my little sob story about losing on that $2 ticket from the introduction? Well, if you're bringing a child or younger sibling to the track, do yourself a favor and give them this ticket—just don't spend anything resembling a significant sum of money.
There's almost no way we can scientifically break this prop down. The length by which a horse wins a race is one of the flukiest things in a sport filled with a never-ending stream of fluky happenstances.
Betting the over on this prop is equivalent to betting the under on a football score. While everyone else is cheering about the thrilling finish and high-scoring acrobatics, you're the guy wallowing that these darn players made the game too fun.
Same thing here. No one wants to see a blowout race. Everyone wants the photo finish and will invariably check out midway through if Orb or whoever opens up a lead so commanding that it becomes insurmountable.
Bet $5-10, give the ticket and have some fun. And if the bet loses and the child starts sobbing uncontrollably, buy him ice cream. I always wish we had gotten ice cream.