The finish line at Pimlico Race Course.
Orb established what appeared to be clear dominance over the three-year-old class of thoroughbreds with his surging run from far back to win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
While he could go off as a commanding 3-5 favorite in the 138th Preakness Stakes this Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, they won't just hand him the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Only eight challengers will line up to face him—three of them new faces who were not among the vanquished at Churchill Downs. Other runners from the Kentucky Derby are skipping the Preakness to await the Belmont Stakes on June 8.
Orb now has won five races in a row, so the connections of the other runners have to look hard to find where they might find an advantage, or at least a level playing field. They can look at the track conditions at Churchill Downs, which were sloppy on Kentucky Derby Day.
Orb ran his best Beyer Speed Figure (a 104) that day, and his other best figures (two 97s) are comparable to the best of the others in the Preakness field. The weather forecast calls for mostly sunshine on Saturday, high in the mid-70s. A fast track might be an equalizer, or so the other runners can dream.
The following are my power rankings of the field for the 138th Preakness Stakes.
Bob Baffert at the 2012 Preakness Stakes
Why He's Here
Govenor Charlie won the Sunland Derby in fast time and with authority. The Midnight Lute colt is in the best of hands, owned by Mike Pegram and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Together, they have won the Preakness twice with Real Quiet in 1998 and Lookin At Lucky in 2010.
Govenor Charlie was supposed to run in the Kentucky Derby, but a foot bruise and time missed training led his connections to scratch and aim for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Baffert flat-out knows how to win. He has nine Triple Crown victories, five in the Preakness Stakes, which is tied for second all time with D. Wayne Lukas. Only R.W. Walden, who trained seven Preakness winners between 1875 and 1888, has more.
If Baffert says Govenor Charlie is ready for such a difficult assignment with a field-low three races under his belt, it would be wise not to argue. The horse has proven capable of carrying his speed over a mile and one-eighth, so the Preakness distance should not prove a major problem.
The horses that have come out of the Sunland Derby have done nothing. Runner-up Show Some Magic finished 11th in the Illinois Derby. The third-place finisher, Abraham, was fourth in the Illinois Derby and fourth again in the Peter Pan Stakes.
Govenor Charlie clearly has never faced this level of competition before. The pace pressure conceivably could be fierce with Titletown Five, Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday all looking to establish forward position. Inexperience will hurt him.
Post Position: 8
Why He's Here
As Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, if he had five or six horses to run in the race, he would. Titletown Five on a cursory glance looks like a speed entry to try to butter up the front-runners for Lukas-trained stalker Oxbow and closer Will Take Charge.
Yet the son of two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow is not without merit. He finished second to injured-and-retired standout Violence by a neck last summer at Saratoga and then, in his next start, broke his maiden by nine lengths in very fast time in October at Churchill Downs.
Clearly, his speed is his greatest asset. Yet, in his most recent start, Titletown Five was taken off a swift pace in the Derby Trial in an attempt to stalk. His effort in the Louisiana Derby may have been better than it looked. He made the pace for the first mile before fading in the drive to ninth, but most of the top horses came from far back to win that day. The track may have been playing against speed horses.
He has run only one race fast enough to compete in the Preakness, but he is in Hall of Fame hands.
With only a maiden victory from seven starts on his resume, Titletown Five is unproven as a stakes competitor, let alone as a runner capable of competing for the win in an American Classic. In every race, except his victory, he has lost ground in the lane, and with the Preakness being the longest challenge of his life, that is not a recipe for success.
Post Position: 3
Why He's Here
At 7.90-to-1, Goldencents was a solid third betting choice in the Kentucky Derby off his sensational victory in the Santa Anita Derby. Trainer Doug O'Neill, who won the Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I'll Have Another, must believe his colt's abominable loss by nearly 50 lengths in the Derby was the result of a sloppy track, which he had never run over.
He has won four of seven starts, so victories are expected. His Beyer Speed Figure of 105 for the Santa Anita Derby remains the top figure for any race of any horse in the field.
Goldencents consistently has proven himself to be a willing battler and punishing pace-presser, except in the Derby. In his first two-turn effort, he rated beautifully on the front end and wired the field in the rich Delta Jackpot.
His victory in the Grade 3 Sham on January 5 at Santa Anita showed him to be a colt that can apply serious pace pressure on a leader and go by to win. He won the Santa Anita Derby that way, and it was one of the finest performances of the year.
If the pace is too quick, Goldencents has proven vulnerable. He had nothing left after a wicked pace war with Flashback in the Grade 2 San Felipe, his race prior to the Santa Anita Derby, and faded to fourth. Goldencents also attempted to track the pace of Palace Malice in the Kentucky Derby and couldn't get close to the leader, where he likes to be. By the time the field hit the far turn, Goldencents was in full retreat, and the chartcaller's comment was "Eased up late."
Post Position: 2
Why He's Here
Widely considered one of the best three-year-olds in the South this past winter, Departing finished third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. He ran in fifth place for the first half-mile, dropped to seventh, raced three- to four-wide on the turn and came on. The winner, second-place finisher and fourth-place horse came from 12th, 11th and 14th place, respectively.
Departing then went to the Illinois Derby and won by three-and-a-quarter lengths.
The best thing a race horse can do is win, and Departing has visited the winner's circle in four of five starts. He is a horse that is easy to place, and jockey B.J. Hernandez Jr. has consistently settled him between two and seven lengths off the leader before rallying in the stretch. He has been carefully managed by trainer Al Stall Jr. and not thrown to the wolves. His speed figures to match up well with the field.
If Departing has a flaw, it is that he has not won a major race. The $50,000 Texas Heritage and even Illinois Derby are not races to build a championship resume on, and the Preakness is one of the American Classics. He will take an enormous amount of betting action based on his reputation and because he is a new face, but despite all his wins, he doesn't have a big one to hang his reputation on.
Post Position: 4
Rosie Napravnik on Mylute
Why He's Here
Off a flying finish for second in the Louisiana Derby, Mylute took jockey Rosie Napravnik to fifth place in the Kentucky Derby, the best result by a female jockey in the history of America's greatest horse race. Mylute finished just three and three-quarter lengths behind the winner Orb, despite being steadied early in the race and traveling six wide into the lane.
The gray colt clearly responds to Napravnik, who has ridden him twice—once to an effortless allowance victory and in the Derby. After racing near the pace in several starts, Mylute has turned into a deep closer who charges relentlessly through the lane, gobbling up horses in front of him.
His jockey, a rising star in the sport who has begun to break through to the national sports consciousness, is a natural with a tremendous feel for pace flow and a touch horses appreciate.
Mylute has consistently outrun his sprint-oriented pedigree but has yet to win at a mile and one-eighth or beyond. He is bound to take an inordinate amount of money in the wagering and will not offer commensurate value. He has never won a stakes race—not a good way to come into the Preakness, one of the most important races in the country.
Post Position: 5
Will Take Charge
Why He's Here
Checked sharply by a tiring Verrazano in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby, Will Take Charge was making a menacing move and moving with the closers, including winner Orb. His eighth-place finish likely would have been better without the trouble. He stunned his stablemate Oxbow in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in April by coming off the rail and driving outside to just get up by a head.
Any live three-year-old in the barn of D. Wayne Lukas will get a shot to win a big race, and he is one of three in here for the Hall of Fame trainer.
Sensationally bred (by sire Unbridled's Song out of the great race mare Take Charge Lady), Will Take Charge was born to be a top horse. His victories in the Smarty Jones Stakes and Rebel showed a tenacity and desire to beat other horses. He is not difficult to position and will extricate himself from trouble.
His top Beyer Speed Figure of 95 does not stack up with the best in this field. His two dirt race victories have come by a neck and a nose. His lack of tactical speed appears to make him vulnerable to the vagaries of the pace.
Post Position: 7
Why He's Here
After the Preakness post position draw, D. Wayne Lukas turned to me and said, "Don't get off him now." Oxbow is a classic Lukas workhorse: Wind him up and he will dance every dance. He ranged up to leader Palace Malice on the far turn in the Kentucky Derby but could not sustain his bid and finished sixth. He has tantalized in many of his races without delivering.
Tactical speed puts Oxbow in the mix every time out. His Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens strongly believes in the horse and now will ride him for the third time. Oxbow is capable of overcoming adversity in his races. He has competed against the best of his generation and never been embarrassed. He has been in front in the stretch in four of his past seven races, and all he needs to do is put it all together to win.
His finishing punch is extremely suspect. His top Beyer Speed Figure of 95 is not high compared to some of his competitors. His desire, as well, can be questioned. He appears to like to get to the front and then run as a pack horse, allowing others to pass him even though he is not necessarily falling away from fatigue.
Post Position: 6
Why He's Here
Itsmyluckyday was the top three-year-old in Florida this past winter until Orb beat him in the Florida Derby. He set a track record winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull, a race in which he vanquished juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby.
He is the only horse in the field carrying two Beyer Speed Figures above 100. His 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby was too bad to be true, and he has trained well for the Preakness.
Unquestionably fast and talented, Itsmyluckyday's performance in the mile and one-sixteenth Holy Bull showed he could win around two turns going long. He ran very well in the Florida Derby as well, finishing second. Capable of sitting off the pace or pressing, he is the kind of horse that can get first strike on tiring front-runners.
He submitted to the oncoming Orb in surprising fashion in the Florida Derby; he basically just got out of the way as Orb ran by. Itsmyluckyday has tailed off dramatically since his two big scores in Florida. He hails from the barn of Eddie Plesa, who, while an experienced and successful trainer, rarely competes on the grand stages of racing.
Post Position: 9
Hall of Fame trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey grazes Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
Why He's Here
He is the Kentucky Derby winner and riding a five-race winning streak. To the delight of his Hall of Fame trainer, Claude "Shug" McGaughey, he appears to be thriving following the rigors of the mile-and-a-quarter Derby. He's galloping beautifully up to the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The robust son of Malibu Moon has continued to post rising Beyer Speed Figures. His consistency cannot be questioned. He can lay close to the pace or come from far back, as he did in the Derby. He has the mind of a winner. Most of all, he displays an alpha personality that compels his rivals to submit in his presence.
Brought along patiently, Orb did not win until his fourth start. Compared to the rest of this class of three-year-olds, he so far has shown no weaknesses.
Post Position: 1