Preakness Stakes: is Stradivari a Horse with no Name?

Stradivari in Preakness Stakes 2016Well, of course he has a name. In fact, he is named after a musical instrument make active during the 17th and 18th centuries. But he has not made a name for himself yet. That all may change, however, on May 21st at the Preakness Stakes. In addition to obvious horse betting favorite Nyquist and Exaggerator – favorite to in the category of “horses who would win Preakness in an alternative reality where Nyquist doesn’t exist” – the most often repeated name among people who bet on horses is that of Stradivari. Why is that?

Stradivari will be the youngest horse in terms of actual age in this year's Preakness field, and as such is also the least experienced. On the other hand, Stradivari is also mature beyond his age. He has just three starts to his career and just one as a 3-year-old, but he won his past two starts by a combined 25-3/4 lengths, as well as ran a 1-1/8-mile allowance race at Keeneland in 1:48 – that is, more than a second faster than Nyquist's time in the similarly distanced Florida Stakes. In horse betting lingo, Stradivari is a new shooter; however, he is also what people who bet on horses call a dark horse.
 
If I may draw a comparison to a work of fiction – which totally makes sense in context –, Stradivari is like Daniel LaRuso; to get to the level of competition that the Cobra Kai students were at requires years of training, and yet Daniel is able to win the big tournament after a glorified training montage. Then again, he had a great trainer, as does Stradivari. His breeders and co-owners, the father/daughter team of John and Tanya Gunther are no strangers to the level of competition that the Preakness Stakes entails. John Gunther has been involved in Thoroughbred breeding and ownership for over a quarter of a century, and owns 350-acre Glennwood Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. Meanwhile, Tanya is the farm's general manager and plays a key part in the planning of matings for the select broodmare band of 20-30.
 
So what does all of this mean for the equine gambler? Should you put your horse betting money on an untested, unknown newcomer? Could Stradivari really be, in the words of Disraeli, that “dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph?” It’s improbable, though not impossible; in 2006 Bernardini won the Preakness with only three starts to his name. That being said, Stradivari has never ran father than 1-1/8 miles or been put to the test in a graded race, while both Nyquist and Exxie have cut their massive teeth in the Kentucky Derby.