Derby winner Orb and jockey Joel Rosario are seeking Triple Crown glory
Since 1979, 34 Kentucky Derby winners have failed to win the Triple Crown, the elusive feat last accomplished by Affirmed in 1978. We have seen many close calls, a dozen runners sweeping the first jewels only to be stymied in the Belmont Stakes.
The most excruciating may have been the Bob Baffert-trained Real Quiet in 1998, who was four lengths clear in the stretch, only to get nailed in the final jump by Victory Gallop, the smallest of noses preventing the colt from becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner.
Is this the year?
Here are 10 things you need to know about Orb’s Triple Crown Chances:
Triple Crown winner Affirmed with Steve Cauthen aboard
If Orb can go on to win the Triple Crown, it will end a 35-year drought. When Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, Sony had just introduced the first Walkman, Fleetwood Mac won Album of the Year, the Washington Bullets won the NBA championship and I spent the day at the track because I could not find a date to my senior prom.
During the 35-year span, we have seen a dozen horses sweep the first two jewels of the Triple Crown and come up short in the Belmont Stakes. The latest was I’ll Have Another, who did not make it into the race, scratched on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with tendonitis.
It takes a very special horse to win three classic races in a five-week span.
The connections of I'll Have Another celebrate winning the 2012 Preakness Stakes
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, we have seen a dozen Derby winners come back and win the Preakness, a solid 37 percent win clip.
However, horseplayers are not going to get rich in Baltimore, as the Derby winner usually is sent off at Pimlico as the heavy betting favorite, and that will be the case again this year with Orb.
I’ll Have Another paid a decent $8.40 last year, but other Derby winners came up chalkier at the Preakness, including Big Brown ($2.40), Smarty Jones ($3.40), Funny Cide ($5.40), War Emblem ($7.60) and Real Quiet ($7.00).
If Orb’s Triple Crown bid gets derailed, it is more likely to happen in the Big Apple.
Jockey Joel Rosario celebrates his Derby win
While Joel Rosario may not be as well-known by casual racing fans as Hall of Fame jockeys Calvin Borel, Mike Smith or John Velazquez, don’t let that fool you. Rosario is arguably the best rider in the U.S.
A native of the Dominican Republic, his has won more than 1,600 races according to Equibase since regularly riding in the U.S. in 2006 and won his first Kentucky Derby in just his second attempt.
His year is off to a great start, winning the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March and dominating the jockey standings at the spring Keeneland meeting with 38 winners.
There is no jockey going better right now than Rosario.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey makes his first trip to the Derby winner's circle
Trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey III does not head down the Triple Crown trail often, as he is known as a patient trainer, with most of his top runners blossoming long after the spring classics are run.
One of the exceptions was with Easy Goer, who was the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1989, beaten both times by Sunday Silence. The colt turned the tables in the Belmont Stakes, ending the Triple Crown bid of Sunday Silence by trouncing that colt by eight lengths.
Since 1989, Shug has only started two runners in the Kentucky Derby, Saarland running 10th in 2002, and Orb winning this year.
While trainers like Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher are more familiar faces on the Triple Crown trail, McGaughey is no stranger to the big stage. He has won nine Breeders’ Cup races and trained one of the best mares of all time in Personal Ensign, who retired undefeated in 13 career starts.
The well-bred Orb has the pedigree to win the Triple Crown
Orb proved himself able to handle 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday of May, and the shorter distance of the Preakness should not pose a problem, but can he handle the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes?
The colt is by Maibu Moon, who only made two starts before he was forced to retire due to injury, and he has become a top sire. He is by one of the most influential sires of the past couple of decades in A.P. Indy.
Orb’s mare is Lady Liberty, a winner of four of her 23 starts with career earnings of $202,045 according to Equibase. She won at 1 1/2 miles and brings plenty of stamina to Orb.
She is by Unbridled, who won the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
If Orb comes up short in either the Preakness or Belmont Stakes, it will not be from a lack of pedigree.
The Pimlico racing surface will not hurt Orb's chances in the Preakness
Between now and Preakness Day, you are sure to hear plenty of talk of how the Pimlico racing surface favors speed, and that the late-running Orb may be at a disadvantage.
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
While the stretch at Pimlico is shorter than at Churchill Downs, and the distance of the race is shorter (1 3/16 miles), horses coming from off the pace have more than a fighting chance in the Preakness.
If we go back 15 years, only one Preakness winner has taken the field gate to wire. The filly Rachel Alexandra wired the field in 2009 as the 9-5 betting favorite, holding off Derby winner Mine That Bird by one length.
We have seen winners tracking the pace like Shackleford (2011) and Big Brown (2008), and we have seen winners come from off the pace including Curlin (2007) and Afleet Alex (2005).
The Peter Pan Stakes is a prep for the Belmont Stakes
No, not that Peter Pan; we are talking about the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday, May 11. While most of the focus is on the Preakness Stakes a week later, the Peter Pan will likely produce a couple of starters for the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 8.
So if Orb does win the Preakness as expected, the Peter Pan could end up producing a runner with the best shot of ending Orb’s Triple Crown bid in the Big Apple.
Nine of the 11 lining up in the Peter Pan are Triple Crown-nominated. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Incognito makes his stakes debut and is bred to get the 1 1/2 mile distance of the Belmont Stakes. He is by A.P. Indy out of the Grade 1 winner Octave.
Todd Pletcher will send out the morning-line favorite Abraham and recent stakes winner Battier.
The connections of Orb will be watching this race with keen interest.
The betting odds on Orb sweeping the Triple Crown are heading south—no surprise, considering he already is one-third of the way there.
The online racebook Bovada asks, “Will Orb win the Triple Crown?” If you wager “Yes,” you get 5-2 odds, while “No” is currently at odds of 1-4.
Wynn Las Vegas had the odds of seeing any horse win the Triple Crown at +240 before the Kentucky Derby. Those odds are now down to +210 after Orb’s impressive run on the first Saturday of May.
If you were a fan of Orb back in April, Wynn Las Vegas had Orb listed at 18-1 to win the Triple Crown. At that time, Verrazano was the shortest price at 12-1.
Bad weather will not hurt Orb's chances of winning the Triple Crown
Orb proved in the Kentucky Derby that he could handle a sloppy track, which was no surprise because he is bred to relish the off-going.
That means that his connections will not have to spend much time watching The Weather Channel over the next four weeks.
If the track comes up wet in either Baltimore or New York, it will not hurt Orb’s bid, and if anything, it may enhance his chances of being the first Triple Crown winner in 35 years.
If Mother Nature cooperates, the colt has shown both at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park that a fast main track is to his liking as well.
Trainer Doug O'Neill lost his Triple Crown bid when I'll Have Another was scratched on the eve of last year's Belmont Stakes
Yes, some horseplayers like me believe in The Racing Gods. They look down on the sport of horse racing and are not going to let just any horse or trainer join the exclusive Triple Crown club.
We are talking about an exclusive club that includes the likes of War Admiral, Whirlaway, Secretariat and Seattle Slew. Trainers like Jim Fitzsimmons, Lucien Lauren and Ben Jones. Owners like Belair Stud and Calumet Farms.
How else do you explain Big Brown’s Belmont Stakes performance in 2008 in which he was eased? Trainer Rick Dutrow had a checkered past with medical violations and is currently serving a 10-year suspension.
Last year it was controversial trainer Doug O’Neill, who also has a list of violations and a couple of suspensions. I’ll Have Another did not even get a chance to show his stuff in the Belmont Stakes, scratched on the eve of the race with tendonitis.
When it comes to the Triple Crown, don’t mess with The Racing Gods.