The second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown is coming up on Saturday, May 18, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb will attempt to keep his Triple Crown chances alive.
The Shug McGaughey trainee will be the short-priced favorite for the $1 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. A victory will send the colt to Belmont Park for the $1 million Belmont Stakes where he would attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
The talented colt has won five races in a row and will be loaded into the gate on Saturday afternoon at Pimlico at odds that might be south of even money.
Will the Derby winner get the job done in Baltimore?
Here are the top 10 reasons Orb will win the 2013 Preakness:
Orb won the Florida Derby over a fast main track at Gulfstream Park
Much has been made of Orb’s tour de force in the Kentucky Derby, how the colt just relished the off going at Churchill Downs, which was not a surprise based on the colt’s solid off-track pedigree.
However, the colt showed he does not need to bring the racetrack with him, as he scored solid victories at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park over fast main tracks.
The colt drew off in the Florida Derby (G2) as if he had something left in the tank, and he likely would have won the Kentucky Derby regardless of the track condition.
The early forecast for Saturday calls for a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms, but trainer Shug McGaughey is not going to lose any sleep over the track conditions at Pimlico on Saturday.
Trainer Chad Brown is bypassing the Preakness with the talented Normandy Invasion
The colt that may have had the best shot of beating Orb in the Preakness was Normandy Invasion, who had the lead in the stretch of the Derby only to weaken and finish fourth.
Some thought jockey Javier Castellano may have moved too soon, and the shorter distance of the Preakness certainly appeared as if it would have suited the colt.
However, trainer Chad Brown has elected to bypass the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes and point toward the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 27 or the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28.
Normandy Invasion likely would have been the second betting choice behind Derby winner Orb in Saturday’s race.
I'll Have Another is the eighth in the last 16 years to pull off the Derby-Preakness double
Orb certainly has history on his side as Derby winners have had good success coming back in two weeks and taking the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Since our last Triple Crown winner in 1978, a dozen Derby winners have come back to win the Preakness, a 28 percent win clip.
Eight of those have been since 1997, meaning half of the Derby winners in those 16 years have pulled off the Derby-Preakness double, including last year with I’ll Have Another.
In addition, we do not see a runner that did not compete in the Derby come back and win the Preakness very often.
We did see the filly Rachel Alexandra win the 2009 running after taking the Kentucky Oaks, and Bernardini won in 2006 after taking the Withers Stakes.
It is much more likely the Derby winner or a runner that finished behind him will be covered in Black-Eyed Susans on Saturday.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is seeking his first Preakness win
Sure, Hall of Fame trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert have combined to win 10 runnings of the Preakness and Shug McGaughey has a record of 0-2 in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
However, McGaughey is also a member of the Hall of Fame and has trained some of the all-time greats, including the undefeated Personal Ensign. He trained Easy Goer, the 1988 champion juvenile, who went on to run second in the Derby and Preakness and won the Belmont Stakes in 1989.
He has won just about every major race with the exception of the Preakness and has racked up over 1,700 wins according to Equibase.
McGaughey’s only other Preakness starter was Pine Circle, which was fifth in 1984.
It also does not hurt to have the hottest jockey on the planet in the irons. Joel Rosario leads all jockeys in the U.S. with 137 winners and is tops in purses with nearly $8 million.
Itsmyluckyday has a pair of 100-plus Beyers, but earned just a 71 on Derby Day
Let’s talk numbers, shall we?
From a speed figure standpoint, Derby winner Orb appears to have the advantage. The colt earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure in his Derby win, which was a career top number.
There are only two in the field that have produced triple-digit Beyers. Goldencents ran a 105 in his Santa Anita Derby win, and Itsmyluckyday has a pair this year, a 102 in his Gulfstream Park Derby win and a 104 in his win in the Holy Bull. However, his last pair of figs are 93 and 71.
Illinois Derby winner Departing will take some betting action, but the figure he earned last out was just a 93, which by the numbers would leave him about six or seven lengths behind the Derby winner.
During Derby week, no horse got more people talking in the mornings than Orb, who made quite the impression each time he came out for a jog or gallop at Churchill Downs.
His final work on April 29 had just about everyone jumping on his bandwagon, and he proved them right with his win on Derby day.
On Monday at Belmont Park, in his last work before shipping to Baltimore, he had the clockers buzzing again, working four furlongs in 47.18.
McGaughey was just as impressed as the clockers. “I thought it was breathtaking. For him to go off nice and relaxed in 24 and change and come home on his own the way he did, and gallop out the way he did, and drop his head and walk home, it sent cold chills up my back.” (h/t NYRA.com)
The filly Rachel Alexandra was the last Preakness winner that did not run in the Derby
Some years the Derby winner has to face a few imposing newcomers to the Triple Crown party, who did not go the grueling 1 ½ miles just two weeks earlier.
None of this year’s newcomers will be mistaken for Secretariat, but they do have some promise, although they may need Orb to have an off day to win.
Departing is coming off a win in the Illinois Derby. The colt ran a respectable third in the Louisiana Derby in his prior start, beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Revolutionary, who came back to finish third in the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the Preakness five times, sends out the lightly raced Govenor Charlie, who won the Sunland Derby on March 24. The colt has been fighting minor foot issues.
Titletown Five will be saddled by D. Wayne Lukas and is coming off a fourth place finish in the Derby Trial and figures to be a long shot.
Big Brown paid his backers a paltry $2.40 for a $2 wager in 2008
If you plan on backing Orb in the Preakness, don’t expect to see a big payoff. The colt paid $12.80 as the favorite in the Derby, but will be a much shorter price in the Preakness, likely right around even money.
Over the past dozen years, the average payoff for the Preakness winner has been $9.95. The highest during that span was Bernardini ($27.80) and Shackleford ($27.40).
Had Barbaro not been injured in 2006 and had beaten Bernardini, the average price would be much lower.
The betting favorite in the race has hit the board over 80 percent of the time going back two decades, and it will be hard to imagine Orb lowering that percentage.
Derby winners have been heavily bet, but have found success in the Preakness including I’ll Have Another ($8.40), Big Brown ($2.40), Smarty Jones ($3.40), Funny Cide ($5.80) and War Emblem ($7.60).
Don't expect to see a gate to wire winner in the Preakness Stakes
Orb came from far off the pace to win the Kentucky Derby, and some will say that the fast early fractions set things up perfectly for the Derby winner, and it did.
Some will also say this week that the shorter distance and the more speed favoring Pimlico racing surface could be Orb’s undoing.
That just is not going to be the case.
Orb showed in his wins in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby that he has enough tactical speed to stay closer to the pace if needed.
In addition, the Pimlico racing surface is not as speed favoring as people make it out to be. In the last 15 runnings of the race, only one runner has managed to take the field gate to wire. That was the brilliant filly Rachel Alexandra, who accomplished the feat in 2009.
The connections of Orb are looking to celebrate two more times this spring
Between 1941 and 1948, we had four Triple Crown winners. From 1973 to 1978, we had three more, and it has been nothing but blanks since.
Last year we saw I’ll Have Another win the Preakness Stakes in one of the most exciting editions, running down pacesetter Bodemeister in the final jump to win by a neck.
It seemed a Triple Crown was on the horizon, but three weeks later on the eve of the race, the colt was scratched due to tendonitis.
For horse players and fans, it was the most deflating event in the sport since Barbaro was pulled up in the 2006 Preakness.
The Triple Crown drought has to end sometime and Orb is as close to a complete package as we have seen. The colt will be very tough to beat on Saturday as the betting favorite, and if he is able to win the second jewel, his date with destiny will be just three weeks later.