Rachel Alexandra in her Stonestreet paddock, May 2012.
I’ll take any excuse for a Rachel Alexandra post, and Melissa Hoppert gives me a good one with a story about visiting the 2009 Preakness Stakes winner, who is recovering well from her near-death post-foaling ordeal earlier this year:
“Running is not the word for it,” Comer said. “She is breezing for the Belmont. When we turn around, she’s back to her old self. She is up in the air, she rears, she runs, she bucks, she plays. She is definitely feeling good.”
Wonderful! Get in the mood for today’s Preakness (post time 6:20 PM ET) with a replay of the 2009 edition. “She’s got her ears up, pricked, ready to go …”
You’re rooting for Orb today, right? “You’ve gotta.”
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.
Chris Rossi looks at the three Preakness Stakes winners in the last 20 years who didn’t start in the Kentucky Derby and finds a few commonalities.
Related: Recent Preakness history: How have Kentucky Derby winners and favorites fared in the second leg of the Triple Crown since 2001?
See also: Paul Moran ponders jockey Eddie Arcaro’s 1986 prediction that there would never again be a Triple Crown winner. Too many foals, said the jockey. (That could be, in which case, the bright side of the decline in the number of North American registered foals from the recent high of 38,261 in 2005 to 28,260 in 2010 and an estimated 24,700 in 2012 is that if we don’t get a Triple Crown winner this year, we might before too long — 2010 was the first year since 1976 that fewer than 30,000 North American foals were registered, and the estimated number for 2012 nearly matches the 24,361 registered in 1970, the year of Secretariat’s birth.)
Not so recent history: “When Mr. Longtail Feasted On Racing.” Arcaro rode two Triple Crown winners, Whirlaway and Citation. The first rivaled Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams for sports fame in 1941, but wasn’t a horse even his connections wanted to call great. “He was not dead game,” said Jimmy Jones, son of trainer Ben Jones. “He had a tendency to give up.” He was fast, though.
This refreshing scenario means that racing, at least in the eyes of the connections of Orb and Departing, is more of a sport, rather than a business, and the objective is to see who has the fastest horse on a given day …
Orb worked four furlongs in :47.18 at Belmont Park this morning. He’ll leave for Pimlico at about 10:00 AM, reports Dave Grening, who also quotes trainer Shug McGaughey calling the Kentucky Derby winner’s breeze “freaky.”
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.