There's a saying in the Triple Crown that the luckiest horse wins the Kentucky Derby, the fastest horse wins the Preakness and the best horse wins the Belmont.
In a 20-horse field, luck is as big a factor as class in Kentucky, but that is largely erased in the Preakness. The maximum amount of horses running in the Preakness is 14, still a large number and a spectacle to behold. Thankfully it makes post position moot and puts the onus ability.
Talk to any trainer and they'll tell you if they had to choose where not to be placed, it would be the far inside. The horse not only contends with an erratic field of peers looking to squeeze over, but there's also a fence. When the unstoppable force of the horse runs into the immovable object of the fence, what you get is a catapulted jockey and a stack of medical bills taller than Joel Rosario.
“Really, nobody ever wants to be down inside," said Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer to Bob Baffert, who saddles Governor Charlie. "You always think, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ but it just adds a little more pressure to you because you need the trip. Orb is a good horse. Hopefully, he will overcome it.”
So, where did Orb wind up? I'll give you ONE guess and only ONE. It shouldn't take you more than, say, ONE second to figure out.
“I was probably thinking, ‘I hope I get one of those outside numbers and not the ‘1.’ Really, I was not nearly as worried this time as I was two weeks ago (for the Kentucky Derby draw)," said Shug McGaughey, trainer to Orb.
So what? Orb drew the rail. All it means is that the horse racing gods are exerting their Mount Olympian sense of humor. [If the Kraken shows up, we'll just roll with it. The Kraken is more a deep closer anyway, winless against Prometheus, hates snakes and disembodied heads, 50-1 on the ML.]
In 2009, Rachel Alexandra broke from Post 13 and won possibly the most thrilling renewal of the Preakness in decades.
Afleet Alex went down to his nose in 2005 before drawing away from the field. He broke from Post 12 (watch Jeremy Rose, his jockey, take him right over to the inside at the start.)
I'll Have Another broke from Post 9 just a year ago.
In the last 10 years or so, the middle of the starting gate fared well. Smarty Jones, Big Brown and Lookin At Lucky all broke—and won—from Post 7. Bernardini, in 2006, broke from Post 8. Curlin, in 2007, broke from Post 4.
See what happens when there's less traffic in a race of talented colts and the occasional filly? All the horses mentioned above—all of them—were the best of their class. Turf writers voted them champion three-year-olds and two of them—Curlin and Rachel Alexandra—won Horse of the Year.
The Derby, though more coveted, more prestigious and more popular does little for showing us who the best three-year-olds are. The Preakness is a more condensed, reduced and concentrated race. Post doesn't matter, but that still doesn't mean horsemen ask to be buried inside.
“We’re ecstatic about it," said Todd Quast, general manager of Goldmark Farm. "With this horse [Mylute], it doesn’t matter as much, but it sure is nice being inside, a little bit toward the middle, and then having Orb inside us and Departing inside us, the two big threats. It’s great to be outside of them."
With the one, seven and eight posts remaining, how do you think Barnes felt when he drew Post 8?
"Perfect. When it was ‘1’, ‘7’ and ‘8’ left ... Eight is perfect. I couldn’t be happier," he said.
So maybe post does matter, if nothing else, then for peace of mind and a night of restful sleep in Charm City.
All quotes from this piece were obtained from the Maryland Jockey Club's press department after the post-draw Wednesday night.