We didn't know that Ken Griffey Jr. was going to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time when he first joined Major League Baseball. We did know, however, that his father Ken Griffey Sr. was a three-time All-Star, and we could draw a reasonable conclusion that the old saying "like father, like son" would apply.
Boy were we right.
Tracking lineage has been important in sports for quite some time. Think Barry and Bobby Bonds. Peyton, Eli and Archie Manning. Austin and Doc Rivers. Dale Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The funny thing about lineage and sports, though, is that it doesn't only apply to humans—it also applies to horses.
Right now, it specifically applies to 2013 Kentucky Derby champion Orb, who won the Run for the Roses by nearly three lengths on Saturday and will likely be the favorite again when the Preakness gates open on May 18.
Orb was a 5-1 favorite at post time, and managed to climb back all the way from the back of the pack to take home a convincing win at the track on Saturday. In doing so, he and Joel Rosario took the first step toward the elusive three-race sweep that jockeys, trainers and owners so desperately seek in the spring months.
The Kentucky Derby put Orb on the staircase; another win would place him on the doorstep for the first Triple Crown victory since 1978 (Affirmed).
However, there are many that feel that conditions at the track and the length of the race will make this Orb's toughest test. Among those are Nick Borg:
Given his running style, the surface & other speeds, Orb might have more difficulty winning the Preakness then winning the Belmont Stakes.— Nick Borg (@NickBorg63) May 7, 2013
Borg's opinion is one that could give way to other viewers before the Preakness kicks off, but there are some things you just can't teach.
Even trainer Shug McGaughey noted (to USA Today) that Orb has a special pedigree, saying he has a "sort of old-time stamina pedigree that goes back a long way. A lot of horses don't have that."
Like we often do in comparisons between father and son, it's important to know a horse's lineage before making some reasonable expectations about what to expect from said horse in one of these Triple Crown events.
Here's a look at Orb's pedigree (via Horseracingnation.com):
|Raise A Native|
*Notable horses in BOLD.
A quick glance at Orb's pedigree (four generations in this view) will tell you a couple of quick things.
One—he has two Triple Crown winners already in his corner.
Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner and maybe the fastest horse of all time if you look at the record books, is the biggest standout from the group. In winning the Preakness, Secretariat completed the fastest time ever (1:53:00) at Pimlico—a record that stands to this day.
He teamed up with Lassie Dear to produce filly Weekend Surprise, who in turn teamed up with the next standout from the list—Seattle Slew.
In 1977, Seattle Slew completed the Triple Crown sweep. He won the Preakness with a quality time of 1:54:40 and went on to complete his thrilling victory by taking the Belmont Stakes later that year.
One thing about Seattle Slew they don't tell you? He went on to race in 1978 and actually knocked off '78 Crown winner Affirmed in a race at the Marlboro Cup Invitational in September of that year.
If you don't think that's impressive, think again.
Last but not least, another standout from Orb's lineage is Malibu Moon, otherwise known as his father. Malibu Moon was noted as a "rising star" in the sire industry by Kentucky.com back in 2010, and he's proved to carry that mantle quite well so far this year with Orb.
So what does it all mean?
Well, as noted by previews of the Preakness so far, this isn't a race that offers Orb the extra 1/16 mile to get going. As the shortest of the three Triple Crown races, the Preakness is a slightly better blend of both speed and stamina from a horse's standpoint—even if the difference seems minimal on paper.
Concerns about Orb for the Preakness are there, and they are mainly about his ability to adjust to the different track in Maryland and find the right time to make a move after the first two turns.
As Ed Fountaine of the New York Post noted back in 2011, the Preakness is a far greater gauge of a champion than the Derby, specifically because of the reduced field (14 horses) and the lack of pressure for anyone other than the horse vying to win the Crown.
Lucky for Orb, he has champions on his side.
How much has pedigree played into Orb's success, by your account?
If a sprint is required, bet that Orb has the legs to pull it off. Secretariat was literally one of the best horses in the history of the world at getting to top speed and sustaining that speed quickly, and Orb has already shown that his closing speed is top-notch.
Of course, pedigree isn't everything. Nothing from the past can account for the job that McGaughey or Rosario did by turning Orb into a Derby champion, and that includes looking back to previous Triple Crown winners for "guidance," of sorts, when preparing for a race.
Sometimes, though, horses just have the look of a champion.
Orb is that kind of horse right now, and his pedigree is proving to be vitally important to his success so far. We'll see if that success translates to another Triple Crown-saving win at the Preakness on May 18, but right now there are few horses with a better lineage to claim than Orb's.
It's certainly not the most important aspect of his character, but it's nice to have in a moment like the one coming up in Baltimore.
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