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Preakness 2016: Pimlico Not Tight-Turned, Speed-Favoring

Preakness 2016: Pimlico Not Tight-Turned, Speed-Favoring by Reinier Macatangay– Racing myths stick easily without any concrete proof. With the Preakness Stakes (GI) coming this week at Pimlico Race Course, it is time to revisit the notion of Pimlico as a tight-turned, heavily speed-favoring racetrack.

Nyquist Preakness Pimlico

Kentucky Derby hero Nyquist galloped a strong mile Sunday morning at Pimlico Race Course in preparation for Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes (G1).

Commentary from those in the industry who know the famous Baltimore racetrack, which opened in 1870, reveal the truth. Pimlico’s turns actually resemble Churchill Downs, and no hard data reveals a lopsided speed bias.

Regardless, the same assumptions will be made each year before the Preakness, perhaps because bettors do not play this racetrack often enough to know better (Laurel Park receives most dates on the Maryland circuit).

Dave Rodman, the track announcer for Pimlico, offered a few words on this subject.

“Former track maintenance man Jamie Richardson says the Pimlico turns aren’t as banked as Churchill. That would give the impression that they are tighter,” he explained through a message.

“In addition, I believe the turns aren’t as WIDE as Churchill, giving one the impression they are tight.”

Indeed, Richardson commented on the assumption of Pimlico’s tight turns and the comparison to Churchill Downs in a USA Today article last year.

“They are so close you almost need to look at blueprints to tell the difference,” he said.

“Pimlico’s turns are relatively flat; they’re not banked as steeply as Churchill’s. I think that could be it.”

As for the speed-favoring part of the myth, in 1957 jockey Eddie Arcaro started this belief after finishing fourth above Bold Ruler in the Kentucky Derby.

According to a Baltimore Sun article, Arcaro told the former general manager of Pimlico, Chick Lang, that his horse would improve “when we get to Pimlico with those tight turns.” He believed the tight turns would help Bold Ruler, who was a speed horse. Bold Ruler won the race, which only helped the label stick around.

Ironically, the piece describes how Arcaro regretted using the words “tight turns” years later.

“Chick, get people to stop saying that. I never should have used the word `tighter.’ What I meant was `narrower.’ The turns at Pimlico are narrower than they are at Churchill Downs.”

Arcaro is accurate with this comment. The turns at Pimlico are narrow compared to Churchill Downs, but a narrow racetrack does not necessarily favor horses up front. Rather, it gives the perception of a speed-friendly track.

Right now, Rodman believes no unusual pattern exists, although he does not discount the possibility of Pimlico once favoring speed for reasons not relating to the “tight turns.”

“There was a time that Pimlico was perhaps a speed-favoring track, but that was before I began working here,” Rodman suggested.

Dirt racing in general does tend to slightly favor speed. The point is, Pimlico resembles the average dirt track in America, rather than a very biased one such as the old pre-2006 Keeneland dirt surface (before the synthetic era came along). Horses in an up-front position win more often, but closers can win as well. From the Baltimore Sun story again, take the advice of Maryland-based trainer Richard Small, who died in 2014.

“If you have the best horse, and he’s a speed horse, he’ll win,” Small said. “If you have the best horse, and he’s a closer, he’ll win. I think Pimlico’s reputation as speed-favoring is overrated.”

May the best horse win the 2016 Preakness.

Related Links:
Pace Logic and History Favor Nyquist in 2016 Preakness