This year’s Preakness is all about Orb. And then there are his eight opponents, most of whom are worthy adversaries, with a case to be made for any of them to step up and run a big race. Big enough to beat Orb is another matter.
You can look at the race from a selection standpoint or a betting standpoint. We really haven’t had a chance to see much serious training at Pimlico, with Orb working at Belmont Monday, walking at Pimlico Tuesday, jogging Wednesday, and galloping Thursday. Of course, his gallop was flawless as usual, and he once again is showing all the signs of a horse who hasn’t even come close to bottoming out, as indicated by his coat and the flesh he’s still carrying. And he still has that edge to him.
If his opponents want to try to find anything to inspire hope it’s that he really has never come home fast, fraction-wise, in any of his five consecutive victories. But part of that could be his tendency to relax a bit once he makes the lead. That’s not to say it makes him vulnerable. You could compare him to a fighter who has a spotless record, with most of his victories coming by decision or TKO rather than a one-punch knockout.
They can also hope the 1-hole will somehow compromise his chances, and while that is always a possibility, all indications are that Orb will drop back to last in the nine-horse field, perhaps some eight to nine lengths off the lead this time, assuming the pace is legitimate, which it should be. Once Rosario gets him settled in last, he should have the option to go around horses again when the time is right.
Pimlico does a tendency to favor strong horses who can separate themselves from the field, just as Shackleford did against Animal Kingdom. And just as Bodemeister did last year. Even though he was narrowly beaten in the final strides, he made I’ll Have Another work hard to catch him. Many Kentucky Derby winners who scored with a big late run from back failed to duplicate that winning run in the Preakness, such as Animal Kingdom, Mine That Bird, Street Sense, Giacomo, Monarchos, and Fusaichi Pegasus since 2000.
Expect to see Orb start picking up horses earlier and at a faster rate. You don’t want to give him too much to do on those turns if a horse like Goldencents or Govenor Charlie, or Itsmyluckyday or Oxbow should happen to get separation from the field.
The two intriguing horses in here are new shooters Departing, who should be making his rally fairly close to Orb, probably a couple of lengths at most in front of him, and Govenor Charlie, who has brilliance and the ability to carry his speed. But he hasn’t raced in eight weeks and has only three career starts, in which he really hasn’t beaten anything of note. We really don’t know how good these two horses are.
When anticipating position, remember, it all depends on the pace, and we know Orb has the ability to lay closer if the pace dictates that strategy.
With everything seemingly going perfectly once again, it would be very difficult to pick against him. He just has too much going for him.
But if you’re intent on trying to beat him, we’ll offer up two observations regarding the little training we’ve seen.
Goldencents bears no resemblance to the horse we saw training at Churchill Downs before the Derby. Although his gallops were strong, he never seemed fluid or as relaxed as he should be, often tossing his head around. Between his nutrition program and physical therapy, and most of all jockey Kevin Krigger getting up on him every day and teaching him to relax, a new horse has emerged, one who appears to be more professional, more relaxed, and there is no head movement at all. And he’s been motoring down the stretch at a sub-two-minute lick, while running straight as the proverbial arrow.
Now, whether that all equates to him knocking off Orb is anyone’s guess. All we’re saying is that he has made tremendous strides since the Derby.
We also have to make mention of Itsmyluckyday, whose last work at Monmouth was very similar to Orb’s last work at Belmont and every bit as impressive. Since arriving at Pimlico, his coat has blossomed and he is carrying excellent flesh, indicating the Derby did not take much out of him. Now all he has to do is return to his early season form, in which he rattled off back-to-back triple-digit Beyers and back-to-back negative Thoro-Graph numbers.
From a trip standpoint, you cannot ignore Mylute, whose Trakus figures have him running some 8 1/2 lengths better than runner-up Golden Soul and third-place finisher Revolutionary. And he was pinched at the start, causing to drop far off the pace. In the stretch, he was widest of all and running over the chewed up part of the track. Expect a big effort, with Rosie Napravnik returning home to Maryland. But he is second choice on the morning line and there probably won’t be a lot of value with Rosie aboard.
Finally, we come to the two Wayne Lukas horses, Oxbow and Will Take Charge. The latter took the worst of it when rallying stride for stride with Orb, only to run smack into a tiring Verrazano, who backed up right in his face, forcing him to steady and veer to the inside to avoid him. You simply cannot stop on a 17-hands horse like that and expect to get him started again.
As for Oxbow, he made his early move into the teeth of those suicidal fractions set by Palace Malice, wound up vying for the lead too early, as the others just stopped abruptly, and although he finished sixth, he was the only horse anywhere near the lead to finish in the top half of the field.
As for the new shooters, we’ve been impressed with Departing’s style of running and how he accelerates away from his opponents with smooth, fluid strides, and the way he wins under wraps with his ears pricked. His third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby was much better than it looks, as he had to hesitate in the stretch, just enough to break his momentum. Once he leveled off again, he was moving well in the final yards.
The best case you can make for Govenor Charlie is the series of brilliant six-furlong works he’s coming off and his brilliance and apparent natural ability. But as mentioned, there is the question of inexperience and lack of racing over the past couple of months.
So, there you have cases to be made for everyone but Titletown Five, who is an unknown factor and who is attempting to stretch way out in distance and against far better horses than he’s been facing. We expect to see him in the King’s Bishop at Saratoga.
So, based on what little observations we’ve made at this point, we would put Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday, Departing, and Myute (despite the low odds) with Orb in the exactas and trifectas. And perhaps throw Oxbow in for old time’s sake. Of course, that means you can be sure Will Take Charge will finish second.
For a win bet only at decent odds, we’ll take a shot with the two worst finishers of the Derby in this field, Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday (who basically were allowed to coast to the wire), based strictly on what we’ve observed.
But the pick, of course, has to be Orb.