Oxbow wins the Preakness
The overwhelming number of opinions said that Orb was a powerful likelihood to win the Triple Crown, so authoritative was his Kentucky Derby two weeks ago at Churchill Downs.
But what a difference two weeks make.
Orb was nowhere and old-timers were everywhere, as two Hall of Famers, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 77, and jockey Gary Stevens, 50, teamed to win the 138th Preakness Stakes.
The race was the kind of feel-good spoiler that you can't get too upset about, considering the connections of the winners.
Here are five winners and five losers from this year's second leg of the Triple Crown.
The grand old man, D. Wayne Lukas
At 77 years old, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is far from the firebrand he was in his heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. While he has mellowed, though, he still has a burning fire to win.
“I’ve still got it,” Lukas said Thursday at the Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico Race Course. “In fact, I’m enjoying it more now than I ever did.”
Enjoy he did Saturday, as Oxbow went gate-to-wire and won the 138th Preakness Stakes by one and three-quarter lengths over runner-up Itsmyluckyday at odds of 15-1.
For Lukas, it was his sixth Preakness score, and Oxbow and his other entrants, seventh-place finisher Will Take Charge and last-place runner Titletown Five, made it 40 starters in the Preakness since he first began training quarter horses in 1968.
He had not won a Preakness since Charismatic in 1999. Now he has four Kentucky Derbys, six Preaknesses and four Belmont Stakes. He broke a tie he had with Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and now has the most of all time.
He not only won the Preakness on Saturday, he won the Dixie Handicap the race before with 25-1 long shot Skyring, keying a $557.50 all-Lukas Daily Double.
Wow. The guy has still got it.
Departing was the wiseguy horse in the Preakness Stakes, the new shooter with a vaunted 4-of-5 record going in.
Trainer Al Stall had the hottest three-year-old in Louisiana this past winter, but he was taking his time with him.
He won a minor stakes in Houston and them showed up back at the Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby. Although he finished third, Departing acquitted himself well. He was the only runner in the vanguard of the field to be around near the end as closers swooped through the stretch from far back.
Stall skipped the Kentucky Derby and instead went to Chicago and won the Illinois Derby by more than three lengths.
He had a lot of backers at Pimlico and went off at odds of 10-1.
He never got involved in the race and finished sixth.
Gary Stevens, riding high on Oxbow
At 50, Gary Stevens becomes the oldest winner of the Preakness Stakes.
He announced his retirement in 2005 and became an actor and had a prominent role in Seabiscuit. He served as a commentator for NBC and HRTV and became a trainer of not great renown.
None of it fed the fire that burned in him to ride and win at the highest level.
Balky knees and all, he returned this year, and while not the dominant superstar of the past, he showed he still had the finesse, style and power to get the job done.
On Saturday, he added his third Preakness to create a very nice symmetry with his three Kentucky Derbys and three Belmont Stakes victories.
He rode masterfully aboard Oxbow, grabbing the lead early; with Goldencents declining to press him, he unspooled crawling fractions, 23.94 seconds for the quarter-mile, 48.60 for the half and 1:38.14 for the mile.
When they turned for home, with Orb laboring, Oxbow had a lot left for the drive because Stevens had made sure of it.
The final time of 1:57.54 for the mile and three-sixteenths was the slowest Preakness since 1961. That is exactly what Stevens wanted because a speedy horse not pressured is extremely dangerous on the lead.
The veteran Hall of Famer Stevens stole the Preakness.
"This is the reason I came back, for Classic wins," he said afterward.
Hall of Fame trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey would never be accused of being a blowhard. He is one of the most courtly, humble gentlemen in the often dog-eat-dog game of horse racing.
He is a true Kentucky gentleman.
Yet in the aftermath of his first Kentucky Derby victory with Orb, McGaughey showed a rare swell of confidence. Not quite bravado, but he was feeling it.
"I would have to think it's going to take a pretty darn good horse to beat him," he said of Orb to UPI before the Preakness.
For McGaughey, this qualifies as boasting.
Yet he grew concerned when Orb drew the inside post position; no horse had won from there since Tabasco Cat in 1994. The morning of the Preakness, McGaughey was restlessly raking the shed row at the Pimlico stakes barn. That is not regular a.m. duty for a Hall of Famer.
It would be saying way too much that any display of confidence landed a karmic defeat at the feet of McGaughey, but any dreams of landing the Triple Crown came crashing down with Orb's sluggish fourth-place finish.
Oxbow leads them home.
Oxbow went to the lead in the Grade 3 Lecomte in January at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and crushed his field by more than 11 lengths. The victory stamped the compact little fireball as a contender for the American Classic races.
But after making the lead in the Grade 2 Risen Star, he finished fourth by a half-length. After making the lead in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, he was run down in the final strides by his stablemate. After being taken back to the rear of the pack in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, he failed to rally and win.
And after looming boldly on the far turn in the Kentucky Derby, he fell back to an undistinguished sixth.
So much for Oxbow. Or was it?
Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer, and jockey Gary Stevens both knew Oxbow liked to run free without others bothering him. They conspired to get out on the lead in the Preakness, as he had run in the Lecomte, and try to nurse him through easy fractions.
Jockey Kevin Krigger, riding the other speedball in the field, Goldencents, declined to put any serious pressure on him. Oxbow was back in his comfort zone.
Although his final time was the slowest since 1961, Oxbow showed he is capable of the big wins, and he carried his storied connections to the winner's circle.
For bettors who believed, he paid $32.80 for a $2 win bet.
Trainer Bob Baffert didn't show up to the Alibi Breakfast on Thursday before the Preakness, a bad sign for one of the biggest trainers in the sport of horse racing.
But he arrived Friday and won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, the filly companion stakes to the Preakness, with Fiftyshadesofhay, and his weekend started going pretty good.
On Saturday, he won the $100,000 Chick Lang sprint stakes with Zee Bros.
But in the Preakness, he brought a pop gun in Govenor Charlie, who never contended and finished eighth, 16 lengths behind seventh-place finisher Will Take Charge.
While everyone in the huge crowd filed out after the big race, Baffert won the finale, a nondescript allowance race with 1-5 favorite Code West.
Baffert doesn't want to win the mop-up races. He wants to win the big ones.
A great day for most trainers, winning two on the Preakness Day card, but not for this Hall of Famer.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik, 25, doesn't like to be compared to other female jockeys; she likes to be compared to the best riders of either sex in the country.
Two weeks ago, she began the highest-finishing female rider in the history of the Kentucky Derby, placing fifth aboard Mylute.
Coming into the Preakness Stakes, only two other female riders had ever even competed in the race in 137 years: Patricia Cooksey, who was sixth on Tajawa in 1985, and Andrea Seefeldt, seventh on Looming in 1994.
That's been it.
Napravnik surely must be disappointed with her third-place finish on Mylute on Saturday, but she defeated the Kentucky Derby winner, Orb, and finished higher than any other woman in the Preakness. She'd rather have won, but this is new ground she's blazing.
Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby in sensational style, with the fastest Beyer Speed Figure (105) of any horse going on to the Kentucky Derby.
His pressure style looked like it would be terrifying for the opposing speed horses. He would sit at the throat latch of anyone who dared challenge him and run them into submission.
His trainer, Doug O'Neill, had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 with I'll Have Another and appeared loaded for another major run.
His jockey, Kevin Krigger, was engaging with loads of confidence and goodwill.
In the Kentucky Derby, Goldencents lost by 49 and a half lengths. He never came close to the leaders.
In the Preakness, when the gate opened, winner Oxbow zoomed right by Goldencents, and he never ranged up to challenge. Instead, he followed along contentedly in second. And then he got tired. And then he finished fifth.
That was the story of Goldencents.
The Preakness Stakes is the most important day of the year for the Maryland Jockey Club, the operational entity of the Stronach Group that runs Pimlico Race Course.
The day is so critical that without it, Maryland racing could not exist.
Preakness Day was another grand success for one of the oldest jockey clubs in the country.
The race, with live concerts in the infield, drew 117,203 fans. Total all-source handle was $81,940,233, the fourth-highest amount in the history of the day. The Preakness itself drew an incredible $50,251,542.
Another titanic day for the Maryland Jockey Club.
Orb smashed the field in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, and the speculation going into the Preakness wasn't whether he could win the race, but whether he would take the entire Triple Crown.
This kind of talk comes year after year, granted, but Orb had won five straight races, and he didn't appear to have any holes in him at all. The opposition, as well, appeared pedestrian at best.
Orb was closer up than usual in the Preakness, and when he picked his head into third place briefly, the crowd let out a tremendous roar, but that was it for him. Oxbow was walking up front through a slow pace, and when they turned for home, the winner had a lot left in the tank.
Orb got flicked aside by Itsmyluckyday, who he beat by more than 22 lengths in the Derby, and Mylute, with the ever-resourceful Rosie Napravnik.
Heading into the Belmont Stakes, if he even runs in the final leg of the series, Orb is almost just another one of the horses.
Redemption is possible, but a Triple Crown is not.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.