If Orb’s Kentucky Derby victory was a win for the old school, then Oxbow’s Preakness Stakes upset was a win for the old timers.
“The experience thing is huge in these races,” said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 77, speaking of the Triple Crown series at Pimlico on Friday. “And [the Preakness] may be more of a jockey’s race than the other two.”
Gary Stevens, 50, proved his point. The Hall of Fame jockey, who came out of a seven-year retirement in January, let Oxbow settle in front and lead through an opening quarter of :23.94 and a half in :48.60 (chart).
It was over. Orb was on the inside and too far off the pace. He finished fourth. Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, on the outside, rallied for second and third.
Oxbow’s final time was 1:57.54, the slowest since Carry Back’s in 1961. The time might not be notable, but the win is for another reason — Oxbow gave Lukas his 14th score in a Triple Crown race, the most of any trainer in history.
“I get paid to spoil dreams,” said Lukas.
“I’m disappointed, but I know how the game works,” said Shug McGaughey. (Let’s pause for a moment to mourn Orb’s lost crown along with his trainer.)
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, always 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.”
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.
It seems a trainer would have to be crazy to use illegal drugs when so many legal ones are at his disposal. Before the days of pharmacological drugs, the goal was to “hop ‘em or stop ‘em,” but what the picture looks like now is an everyday practice of using drugs to manage pain and other complications to get a horse to post. Since the majority of horses race for tags, it makes sense. “The claiming game does not protect the horse,” Scollay says. “It’s like day- trading on the stock market.”
The respiratory drug clenbuterol, its anabolic properties, and the widely differing state-by-state guidelines for its use get particular attention; Massachusetts is among the states listed in Goldberg’s piece as offering no guidelines. That was the case through the 2012 Suffolk Downs meet — since then, though, Massachusetts has joined seven other states in adopting the Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program, which allows for 24 therapeutic drugs and sets guidelines for their use, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission began the process of incorporating the new rules in January 2013 (PDF). Under the new guidelines, clenbuterol will no longer be permitted within 14 days of racing. Corticosteroids won’t be allowed within seven days.
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).