Haskin's Preakness Report: Oxbow and Stevens Try Again

Up until the five-sixteenths pole of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Gary Stevens was envisioning a fairy tale victory aboard the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow only five months after returning to the saddle following a seven-year retirement.

But that image lasted only about three or four seconds. Oxbow had expended too much energy moving up into a suicidal pace set by the newly blinkered Palace Malice. After turning into the stretch, all Stevens could do was sit back and watch Orb storm past everyone en route to a popular two-length victory.

If Stevens had any immediate thoughts of turning the tables on Orb in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), he quickly got a reality check when he saw firsthand how the Derby winner pulled up after the race.

“Orb was still a fresh horse after the race, and the reason I know that is, he wasn’t looking to pull up,” Stevens said. “When the outrider came up next to him to pull him up, Orb was like a 2-year-old going, ‘What are you doing?’ He propped under Joel (Rosario) and I was right behind him and almost ran over the top of him.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do to turn the tables on him. All I can hope for is that Orb doesn’t show up the same horse that showed up in the Derby and has some traffic problems. I like Oxbow’s style of running; he’s going to be close to the pace and won’t have traffic to negotiate. But I’m going to be honest with you; we’re all up against it. I liked what I saw from the winner and I think we’re seeing a colt with untapped resources right now who is still improving, and that’s a scary thought. I’m going to have to figure things out after I see the post positions and then devise a strategy. But I do know I’ll be close to the pace or on the lead.”

Stevens certainly is not conceding the second leg of the Triple Crown to Orb and is looking forward to taking him on again at Pimlico with a colt he is learning more about with each race. So far, it’s been trial and error with Oxbow, a horse with a powerful engine who can get very aggressive when pumped up. But after the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby, Stevens should have a good handle on him, and if the two can get on the same page for the Preakness, expect a huge performance.

Stevens thought on a couple of occasions that was going to happen in the Derby, not only at the five-sixteenths pole when he disposed of Palace Malice, but before the race as well.

“It wasn’t just getting to the Kentucky Derby and being a participant that got me excited, it was being out in the post parade and seeing how Oxbow was handling everything,” Stevens said. “From the time in the paddock to being out on the racetrack and hearing My Old Kentucky Home to walking up to the starting gate I had a smile on my face. I told the pony girl next me I loved the way this horse was warming up; he was giving me all the right signals. I walked in the gate just full of confidence, and he stood in there like a perfect gentleman. He was loaded first and stuck his nose in the “V” of the starting gate and was looking down the racetrack. He was really focused, and that gave me a great feeling.”

But being aboard Oxbow before and after a race is not quite the same as being on Oxbow during a race, as the son of Awesome Again has had to overcome horrible posts, moving too soon on several occasions, and being taken back to last, which is not where you want to have a horse with his natural speed.

If you want to know what bad posts are all about, just look at Oxbow’s past performances. In his last six starts, all around two turns, he has had to break from post 10 three times and post 11 once, losing a ton of ground each time. Those would have been great posts in the Kentucky Derby, but he went the other way and drew post 2, winding up on the dreaded rail following the scratch of Black Onyx. In addition to his bad posts and getting hung very wide on the first turn, he moved too soon in the Risen Star (gr. II) and Rebel (gr. II), and then with Stevens aboard for the first time in the Arkansas Derby, he wound up last from the 10-post in the 10-horse field, which is a complete deviation from his normal style of running.

“The Arkansas Derby didn’t go well,” Stevens said. “I knew what I had done wrong immediately when it happened early in the race. I’m a guy who lives and dies by the sword and if I make a mistake I call it out and try to correct the problem. I believe it’s alright to make a mistake; just don’t make the same mistake twice. I learned in the Arkansas Derby you can’t just reach up and take a big hold him; you have to make him happy. He’s a cool horse to be around and he’s very competitive once those doors open up or when you’re working him. When he realizes he’s going to have a workout he becomes very aggressive.”

Stevens was impressed with Oxbow’s sixth-place finish, considering the fact that on that sloppy sealed track, he ran testing fractions of :22 4/5, :46, and 1:10 4/5 and was the only one of the early pace factors to finish in the top half of the field. The others – Palace Malice, Verrazano, Itsmyluckyday, Goldencents, and Falling Sky – finished 12th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 19th, respectively. As a result of the brutal pace (:22 2/5, :45 1/5, and 1:09 4/5) the first five finishers – Orb, Golden Soul, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and Mylute -- came from as far back as 17th, 15th, 18th, 12th, and 18th at one point in the race.

“I was real proud of Oxbow,” Stevens said. “He has a huge tank, and what was great about him is he had every right to just chuck it in, as the rest of the pace horses did, and he battled on to the finish line.  

“The Arkansas Derby had been the only time I’d been on his back in the afternoon. I was fortunate enough to get to work him twice prior to the Kentucky Derby, and I was really impressed with his demeanor. Wayne would have me get on his back about 20 minutes prior to the work and walk him around the barn area a couple of laps and then go to the gap, so he could be the first one on the track. He handled he crowd and all the photographers with so much class.”

We know what Oxbow is capable of and how dangerous he can be when things go right for him. After all, the only time he drew a good post and had a good trip was in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) and all he did was win by 11 1/2 lengths, demolishing eventual Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul. We know what Lukas and Stevens are capable of in the Preakness, having won the second leg of the Triple Crown seven times between them, with Lukas winning five of them. Heck, even the name Calumet Farm, despite the owner and colors change, is a part of Preakness history, with seven victories. So, that’s a total of 14 Preakness wins for the owner, trainer, and jockey.

If Oxbow can escape the post position draw unscathed for a change and gets a typical Gary Stevens classic ride, who knows what this horse is capable of?

Derby Leftovers: Oxbow and Orb - All Photos by Steve Haskin

Oxbow
Oxbow about to break off in his work with Gary Stevens aboard.

Oxbow and Will Take Charge Bath
Lukas' pair of Oxbow (left) and Will Take Charge will try Orb again in Preakness.

Oxbow
Oxbow can be a bundle of energy in the morning.

Orb
Orb displays the radiant smile of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Orb
To all those who doubted Orb

Orb
Finally playing it straight

28 Comments

Leave a Comment:

trackjack

Thanks, Steve, for the update and the pics.  It seems the more you and others comment on Orb, he is being revealed as some kind of 'character'.

Gary Steven's comments regarding Orb reveal what everyone else is up against.  Before the Derby, Bob Baffert told anyone willing to listen that Orb was a standout.  When jockeys and trainers talk about another horse; people listen.

09 May 2013 9:08 PM
El Kabong

OMG,

I'm in tears laughing. That was a great read but then scrolling down to see the photos of orb taunting was just the icing. The Orb shots were priceless.

09 May 2013 10:22 PM
Vistoso

That's why they run the race, everyone thought Big Brown couldn't be beat. You have to WIN the race. I love Orb class as a horse, and I wish him the best I want the Triple Crown earned and on a dry track and let's see the outcome.

09 May 2013 11:14 PM
JSPII22

Normandy Invasion tracked Oxbow all the way around the track. It is misleading to clump him in with the closers.

09 May 2013 11:42 PM
Giddyup

I've always been a huge fan of D Wayne Lukas because he is a straight shooter who tells it like it is. Gary Stevens is the same way and if anyone can bring out the best in Oxbow under race conditions it will be Gary.

10 May 2013 2:48 AM
Agnes

Wonderful px of ORB. Steve Haskin is the best!

10 May 2013 10:55 AM
rams2050

I'm not sure if anyone else saw it or not, but I noticed Orb began bucking when he was pulled up.  Like Gary Stevens said, Orb did not want to stop.  I hope that bodes well for the Belmont Stakes, especially if Orb can win the Preakness, as I am anticipating he will.  

10 May 2013 11:24 AM
steve from st louis

Will Take Charge looks like a Clydesdale standing next to Oxbow. How big is he?

10 May 2013 12:07 PM
Love 'em all

What a treat!  This has made my day, Mr. Haskin.  

Looking at the first pic, Oxbow has every right to hold his head up high ... as does Gary Stevens.  They make quite a pair.  Wish them both the best.

The "Os" really have it this year with Orb ... Oxbow ... and Overanalyze in the TC races.  "O" as in Cheerios, since all three love their oats.  Makes you want to sing that old yodeling tune ....

"Cheerio-ee-oh-ee-ohs  

Yummy Oaty-oh-ee-oh-ee-ohs".  

Who knows?  It's long overdue for General Mills to feature a four-legged athlete on the cover of a Cheerios box.  Horses love oats!

10 May 2013 12:19 PM
SOUTHBENDFARM

I agree with Gary Stevens about Orb.  The horse was barely blowing after 1 1/4 miles and was not wanting to stop running even after an extra 1/4 gallop out.  He was fresh....even after 1 1/2 miles!!! Amazing!.  I believe he is just learning how to run and to respond to his jockey.  If this is the case, then Oxbow will have to have all the racing luck a horse could ever have in a race to beat Orb.  I just don't see that happening.

10 May 2013 12:38 PM
Alex'sBigFan

Oxbow I want to just go hug him.

He is so darn cute and seems to be a spirited little devil too.  Love that Gary is riding again.  Oxbow has grit.  I'd like them to finish in the money in the Preakness but beating Orb I don't see it.  I don't think Orb will be that far back this time and if he has that dangerous tactical speed that I think he has he should be fine.  The way I see it is if Orb can run like that in slop he's that much more dangerous on dry dirt, and if the track comes up sloppy for the Preakness we already know he's not fearful of it.  May be afraid of flowers though, did anyone else notice that 2 guys shielded Orb's eyes with their hands when they put the blanket of roses on him?  Shug had said it's all new so maybe it was a precautionary measure.  Great headshot of Orb here Steve.

Good luck little Oxbow, he'll be my third choice.

10 May 2013 8:40 PM
Bigtex

Thank you, Steve!

Did Will Take Charge look that fit in Louisville?

10 May 2013 9:55 PM
APCindy

I wish they would reinstate the million dollar bonus to the best finisher in the all the Triple Crown races maybe to incent the second and third place horses to run in the Preakness.  I really miss the  great rivalries like fun Affirmed/Alydar...Sunday silence/Easy Goer etc...Does anyone know in the years since they eliminated the bonus how many Derby runner ups have skipped the Preakness?

10 May 2013 11:15 PM
swaff

"Will Take Charge looks like a Clydesdale standing next to Oxbow. How big is he?

steve from st louis"

Will take Charge is 17 hands tall.

11 May 2013 1:46 AM
creaturelover92

So glad Rosie and Gary did so well! I did notice rather quickly that Oxbow ran HUGE, if the pace wasn't so fast and Gary hadn't pushed the button early we may have been looking  at a different winner!

11 May 2013 7:19 AM
Love 'em all

Does Orb know his baby picture was mistakenly put next to Lines of Battle in the Claiborne 'foaled and raised' ad (inside cover) of the B-H issue 5/4?   LoB was mighty cute as a foal, but I'm pretty sure that's not Orb.  Departing is the third foal in the ad.  They're all too cute!  

11 May 2013 7:32 AM
Pedigree Ann

This is off-topic, but we need to get the word out to as many people as possible.

We need to get a national movement going to make certain that what happened to Omaha's grave does NOT happen to Native Diver's grave.

In case you missed it, Omaha was buried at Ak-Sar-Ben, in Omaha. Then the track was sold and the grave ended up under a parking lot, or was hauled away when basements were excavated.

At least at Hollywood there is a monument over the grave, so its location couldn't be lost, as Omaha's was.

11 May 2013 10:50 AM
Pedigree Ann

Love 'em all -

When I was little, back in the Dark Ages, I ate Cheerios for the sole reason that they were made from oats and horses ate oats. Good enough for horses, good enough for me.

11 May 2013 11:16 AM
Uncle Smiley

Steve,

Your lens matches your pen. Superb reporting, for both eye and mind!

Now, off topic,

Rosie Napravnik to ride at Ascot (UK) this August.

Is this a first for an American flat rider? In this or the twentieth century?

US

11 May 2013 7:18 PM
datflippinrabbit

After the Orb derby win i'm starting to get a feeling the rest are an ordinary bunch,unless the off track was a player.Looking at it now as Gary Stevens said they are up against it for shure.If he wins this one he'll have the Belmont in his backyard,but horses can make idiots out of us as we have seen time and time again.

12 May 2013 10:58 AM
Love 'em all

Pedigree Ann

Can you imagine how many more boxes of Cheerios GM could sell if they started featuring champion horses on the cover of its box?  Why, I would chuck my Total box for a Cheerios box in a heartbeat!  They should've thought of this years ago when their Wheaties box featured human champions.  Everybody loves a champion horse!  Heck, everybody loves a horse!  

12 May 2013 11:40 AM
Jean in Chicago

Uncle Smiley--Steve Cauthen, Cash Assmussen and Darrell McHargue all moved to Europe.  Steve had a spectacular career over there after a terrible run of over 100 loses after the Triple Crown here in the US.   And don't forget Tod Sloan (the original Yankee Doodle Dandy) who introduced the shortened stirrups to English riders (although this was in the 19th century).

12 May 2013 1:06 PM
Jean in Chicago

And don't forget John Velazquez got the mount on Animal Kingdom partly because of his experience at Ascot.  

12 May 2013 1:23 PM
Plod Boy Phil

Very disappointed that Normandy Invasion will be skipping the Preakness.

12 May 2013 4:43 PM
Karen in Texas

Uncle Smiley,

In addition to the American riders mentioned by Jean in Chicago, Chantal Sutherland rode at Ascot last year in the same team competition that Rosie will be a part of this year. Gary Stevens has ridden at Ascot for entire meets, and has even received instructions from Queen Elizabeth herself before riding her horse. Jerry Bailey rode Dubai Millenium to a win in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot in 2000.

13 May 2013 1:29 PM
Coldfacts

Plod Boy Phil,

"Very disappointed that Normandy Invasion will be skipping the Preakness."

I have to take another shot at you. He is only a MSW winner and those should be directed to NW2.

He is a May foal who seems to have problems maintaining weight. The 10F distance of the Derby would have negatively impacted his body mass and as stated be his connections he needs to regain some the weight lost.

In any event he would not be the likely winner as the spacing between his races suggests he needs lots of time between them.

14 May 2013 7:15 AM
Coldfacts

I have never regarded Oxbow as a top class 3YO. He has run some nice races but has not given any indication that he will be able to win the really big ones. That stated, Is Oxbow a mirror image of Tabasco Cat?

The Lukas trained Tabasco Cat finished 6th behind 1994 gate to wire Derby winner Go For Gin. Ironically that Derby was contested on a sloppy track. Tabasco Cat returned in the Preakness to turn the table on the Derby victor. A feat he would repeat in the Belmont.

Oxbow finished 6th in the 2013 Derby also contested on a sloppy track. Can lightning strike twice for Lukas with colts that finished in similar positions in their respective Derbies contested on sloppy tracks?

Unlikely, as it would require a launch into Orbit.

Am I being a shade too negative regarding Mr. Lukas gray colt? History suggest that I might be as the coach is known for taking down Derby winners in the Preakness with his also ran’s:

1985 - Tank Prospect 7th. (Derby winner Spend A Buck)

1994 – Tabasco Cat 6th. (Derby winner Go For Gin)

Codex his first winner of a TC race had bypassed the Derby and was accidentally entered in the Preakness. He took down Genuine Risk in a controversial victory.

Title Town Five??

NB: Louis Quatorze finished 16th in his Derby effort and returned in the Preakness to win in a new stakes record. Yes, there is definitely hope for those classified amongst the also ran.

14 May 2013 8:31 AM
Lise from Maine

Hi!

I just love Orb's radiant smile.

That is such a neat photo of him.

Thanks for the photos. I love to see them.

Lise from Maine

15 May 2013 9:38 PM

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