Last time a sub even-money Derby winner failed to hit the board in the Preakness? Not in 20 years or more? Anyone got the answer?
Swale was the answer. The 1984 Kentucky Derby winner, running second for much of the Preakness to pacesetter Fight Over (who held on for third), failed to kick in the stretch and finished seventh as the 4-5 favorite, beaten seven lengths by Gate Dancer (fifth in the Kentucky Derby*). Steven Crist, reporting for the New York Times, described Swale’s stunning defeat as:
the worst by any odds-on favorite in the history of the Preakness and the worst by any favorite since First Landing finished ninth in 1959.
No excuses were made for Swale, who would win the Belmont Stakes. “It was the consensus of most of us in the barn,” the colt’s groom Michael Klein wrote in his memoir, Track Conditions:
that Swale was running the race only because the Preakness was a jewel in the Crown, and to fulfill a theoretical obligation, he had to make a showing. The last jewel — the Belmont Stakes — was much more to his taste, both in terms of distance and quality of racing surface.
We’ll find out in a little less than three weeks, if Orb starts in the Belmont, whether the same can be said of him.
Below, Preakness winners and beaten Kentucky Derby winners, 1984-2013:
Preakness winners 1984-2013, where they finished in the Kentucky Derby, and their Preakness odds / Kentucky Derby winners, where they finished in the Preakness, and their Preakness odds / * = Preakness post-time favorite
Worth noting — Oxbow is the highest-priced Preakness winner of the past 30 years, confirming that the second leg of the Triple Crown hasn’t been the best race to look for longshots (the Belmont, though, is another matter).
*Fourth, actually, but the eccentric colt was disqualified and placed fifth for interference. It was the first DQ in Kentucky Derby history.
An essential part of Kentucky Derby winner Orb’s origin story is that he almost didn’t exist. His dam, Lady Liberty, seemed a subpar producer after three foals, only one a winner. Ogden Phipps wanted to sell. Others within Phipps Stable and Claiborne Farm thought the Unbridled mare deserved another shot, and so Lady Liberty visited Malibu Moon. The result was “pretty conventional,” until it wasn’t: “Now that it’s happened you look at that mare, you’re, ‘We knew you had that in you.’” Lucky Liberty, whose stall door now boasts a triumphant news clipping. She’s reportedly in foal to Malibu Moon again.
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Orb, Orb, Orb: The Hello Race Fans Preakness cheat sheet fills you in on the other eight starters. Johnny D has a few wagering tips (beyond Orb on top). Andrew Beyer wants to see “a truly great effort,” if Orb wins, but he doesn’t seem like a blowout kind of beast. (And if he is capable of a truly great, truly dominating win, wouldn’t it be better that he save it for the Belmont?) Orb’s “consistent grinding style” is winning, not flashy. He reminds me of Invasor, a tough, game, champion grinder, never dazzling, running just fast enough.
A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun considers the question of why modern-day contenders in Triple Crown races may be slower than past generations. Thoro-Graph founder Jerry Brown disagrees that they are:
Brown’s studies have found that track surfaces are significantly different than they were in the 1970s, with as much as an inch more cushioning and more sand as opposed to hardened clay.
“It’s like they’re running in a sandbox,” he said of contemporary racehorses.
Accounting for this difference, Brown concludes that many of the most impressive runs in Triple Crown and other races have come in recent years.
In Brown’s view, if Orb could be sent back to the 1970s, “the colt would likely be 8-10 lengths faster than Triple Crown competitors from that era.”
One theory, glancingly mentioned in the Sun piece, is that elite 3-year-olds might be slower because they’re underworked, but the work patterns of recent Kentucky Derby winners don’t suggest that’s a major factor, at least, not when looking for a correlation with Beyer speed figures. Orb (104) worked 12 times at an average distance of four furlongs between the start of the year and the Kentucky Derby; 2012 Derby winner I’ll Have Another (101) worked 11 times at an average distance of 6.25 furlongs. While Orb and IHA are outliers in distance, they’re not in number of works, which, going back to 1998, ranged from seven (Animal Kingdom, 2011; Big Brown, 2008; Smarty Jones, 2004) to 14 (Street Sense, 2007; Giacomo, 2005; Funny Cide, 2003; Real Quiet, 1998). The average distance for all was five furlongs. The highest Beyer in the period covered went to Monarchos (116), who had four prep races and nine works at an average distance of 4.75 furlongs. The lowest went to Giacomo (100), who had three prep races and 14 works at an average distance of 5.5 furlongs.
Preakness winners 2001-2012, where they finished in the Kentucky Derby, and their Preakness odds / Kentucky Derby winners, where they finished in the Preakness, and their Preakness odds / * = Preakness post-time favorite
About a dozen have been declared as likely starters in the Preakness Stakes, with seven plus Orb coming out of the Kentucky Derby. Looking at the last dozen runnings of the Preakness, one of that group is most likely to beat Derby winner Orb (if he can be beaten). Non-Derby starters have won the Preakness only twice since 2001, both in years of exceptional circumstance.
Kentucky Derby winners have a mixed record over the period listed above, with one DNF, six losses, and five wins. Assuming Orb is the favorite in the Preakness as he was in the Derby, the odds tilt back in his favor with the performance of Derby favorites as Preakness favorites since 2001 — three of the four in that group (Point Given, 1.80 KYD; Smarty Jones, 4.10 KYD; Street Sense, 4.90 KYD; and Big Brown, 2.40 KYD) won the second leg of the Triple Crown. Street Sense finished second to Curlin, the eventual 2007 Horse of the Year. All of which is to say, if you like Illinois Derby winner Departing for the Preakness upset — well, you have to hope Orb’s former Claiborne pasture buddy proves exceptional in more ways than one.
The old school believes a trainer should not manage a horse to fulfill the personal ambitions of the owner or trainer. The old school believes a trainer should be guided by the development and the capabilities of the animal. The old school believes judicious handling will eventually bring rewards.
The old school doesn’t say, “YOLO.”
Kentucky Derby winner Orb is already
on his way back to New York back in New York, where he may breeze once at Belmont Park before shipping to Pimlico early Preakness week. The colt was given a Beyer speed figure of 104 for his 2 1/2 length win over the sloppy Churchill Downs track — a nice jump forward off his matching winning figures in the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth. “He hasn’t been overcooked,” trainer Shug McGaughey told Jay Privman, saying he expected Orb to run as well in two weeks as he did on Saturday.
For the third year in a row, the Thomas Herding team tipped the winner, calling out Orb as their “top rated horse” in this year’s Derby, for a slew of reasons that included grit, versatility, and what you might call will:
Orb always runs his own race. He doesn’t react to the other horses in his environment. They react to him.
That’s what it looked like when he geared up in the stretch to pass the five still in front. According to Trakus, “Orb’s final quarter mile winning the Kentucky Derby was :25.88,” the only sub :26 final quarter in the field. DRF has him at :25.97 for the quarter, which is still faster than next best Revolutionary, who closed in :26.02 DRF time (:26.09 Trakus time) to finish third.
Orb was the post-time favorite at 5-1, and is the first Derby favorite to win since Big Brown in 2008. (He’s also the first since Barbaro in 2006 to have more than two preps.) After a few years in which longshots seemed to rule, it’s refreshing to have the horse pretty much everyone agreed was the best going into the Derby emerge as the best horse out of it. Orb didn’t break any rules winning (not that there are many left), but he didn’t have to — he’s a Kentucky Derby winner in a classic mold (as are his connections).
A handy shortlist/chart of who likes* who for the 2013 Kentucky Derby:
Also handy, and great for parties: The Hello Race Fans Derby Cheat Sheet.
*Click on the links in the left column for more info on things like White’s Derby strikes system, which ranges from zero (no strikes) to four (a statistically bad bet), and what Welsch saw at Churchill Downs this week.
**Thomas Herding is a rich, idiosyncratic form of analysis covering the Derby contenders’ “emotional conformation.” The horses ticked above in column three reflect my interpretation of the Thomas profiles, which appeared on Kentucky Confidential in 2011-2012, and are available on Brisnet this year.
As is the case with grooms and hot walkers, these individuals are not listed on the official race chart, or in the program, or in most of the media coverage leading up to or following the big event. There will be no trophy or postrace TV interview on a national network for the one whose horse wins the Derby. Ask how they feel as they gallop their charges beneath the Twin Spires, however, and every one of them will tell you — in the days leading up to the big event, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.
The spreadsheet contains three pages for your reference: The Derby fields page, which includes historical criteria information for all starters dating back to 2003; the in-the-money page, which includes information just for Derby winners and placed horses back to 1998; and the winners’ preps page, which lays out the race and work schedule for each Derby winner back to 1998.
New this year, inspired by Left at the Gate, is a column that that includes the number of starts each contender made as a 3-year-old pre-Derby, next to the column that includes the number of total career starts.
Every Derby winner since Street Sense in 2007 has won off a two-race prep schedule; 2012 was the height of short pre-Derby campaigns in this era, with nine contenders making their third start of the year in the Derby (and one making his second start of the year). This year, five starters will enter with two preps — Java’s War, Overanalyze, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and Mylute — and one, Lines of Battle, with one prep. Curiously, of the two-prep bunch, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and Overanalyze also haven’t surpassed their top 2-year-old Beyer speed figures as 3-year-olds. (Nor have Vyjack and Frac Daddy, with three preps each.) Since 2007, there have been one to five starters each year who raced as 2-year-olds but didn’t exceed their juvenile best Beyer in their prep campaign, and all but one finished out of the money. Street Sense is the lone winner since 1998 striking out on that measure — but he did earn a figure of 108 winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Revolutionary, etc. can’t make the same claim.
More: Derby prep results and replays / Hello Race Fans’ Derby cheat sheet / Jon White’s Derby strikes and selections / Derby by the speed figures / Mike Welsch’s final Derby Clocker report from Churchill / Andrew Beyer’s analysis
This 60 Minutes segment on Rosie Napravnik may be the first coverage of the jockey (who’s riding Mylute in the Kentucky Derby) I’ve seen this spring that doesn’t remind me of Freddy Rumsen telling Don Draper that Peggy Olsen’s insight into the Belle Jolie campaign “was like watching a dog play the piano.”
Go ahead, joke, “There is a filly in the Derby. The thing is this one has two legs, not four.” Wonder, “Can a woman win the Kentucky Derby?” Say, “You can almost classify her as just ‘jockey,’ now.” Because Napravnik can ride: She’s 25, and she’s won the Kentucky Oaks and a Breeders’ Cup race within the last year. So far, in 2013, only Joel Rosario has won more races than Napravnik; only four other jockeys have won more money. And she has the right attitude:
“There still are owners and trainers that don’t want to ride a female. The only way that I deal with that is, you know, to try to beat that person in a race, beat that trainer or owner in a race.”
Napravnik might not be on the Derby winner this Saturday, but she’ll be on a Kentucky Derby winner before her career ends. Bet on it.
3:30 PM Addendum: Napravnik tells Byron King she’s pleased with how the 60 Minutes interview turned out: “They did an excellent job with it.”