Those planning their weekend of June 8 around seeing horse racing history at the 2013 Belmont Stakes should probably consider making secondary plans.
The nearly four-decades-long Triple Crown drought continued in Saturday's 138th running of the Preakness Stakes, as 16-1 underdog Oxbow shocked the world at Pimlico Race Course. Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who came into Pimlico as an overwhelming favorite, finished fourth.
It was a result that baffled some and shocked nearly all.
And with Belmont lingering in three weeks, race officials have to be wondering how they'll drum up excitement for the Triple Crown capper. Because for right now, Orb's loss feels like one massive pulling of the rug by a sport that's continually done so since 1978.
What makes this latest rug-pulling so dejecting is that—for arguably the first time since Big Brown in 2008—it felt like Orb had a legitimate shot at taking the whole thing. His Triple Crown odds were down to plus-225 on Bovada's sportsbook heading into Saturday's race, which is an astounding number for a horse that had just a third of the journey down.
Everyone felt like something was special in the air with Orb.
The three-year-old colt had already become the first since Big Brown five years ago to win from the favorite at Churchill Downs and was an overwhelming favorite at Pimlico. At 5-7 odds, Orb was getting bet on heavily by those in the public and those in the know.
Even opposing trainers couldn't help but marvel about Shug McGaughey's ascending colt. Doug O'Neill, trainer of Goldencents, said prior to the race that Orb had a very good shot at capturing the Triple Crown.
"I definitely think it's well within his range. He's a Triple Crown threat, for sure," said O'Neill, per USA Today's Gary Mihoces.
The legendary trainer Bob Baffert went one stop further, saying that those not rooting for Orb had "something mentally wrong with them," per the Lexington Herald-Leader's horse racing feed:
Alicia Wincze Hughes @BH_AHughes
Bob Baffert on Orb "Anybody who is not rooting for Orb there is something mentally wrong with them. I have a lot of respect for that horse."5/17/2013, 1:50:03 PM
This is a good time to remind you that Baffert had a horse, Govenor Charlie, in this field. Even those who stood to financially gain from Orb's misfortune were rooting for Orb, so you can only imagine the public's feelings heading into this race.
Of course, we knew there were plenty of mitigating circumstances working against Orb. Starting on the inside post, he was looking to become the first thoroughbred since Tabasco Cat in 1994 to win starting from the No. 1 position. And he also became the fourth straight Derby winner since the turn of the century to lose in a field of nine or fewer horses, per Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form.
It didn't matter for most. This was the horse that would finally break free and win all three races because it had to be.
Horse racing's journey to find the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 has become sports' version of chasing the proverbial dragon. Every year casual and hardcore fans alike desperately cling to the hope that this could be the year. That competitive fields and the increased sophistication of trainers and owners hasn't created a parity-driven sport out of one that was once predicated on individual transcendence.
Parity works for the NFL. It doesn't for a niche individual sport.
So you'll forgive most if they were a bit dejected over Orb's failure on Saturday. Following the race, most took to Twitter to express their feelings—good and bad—about what just transpired.
Some, like Eric Stangel of the Late Show w/ David Letterman, understandably went right to the humor well:
Eric Stangel @EricStangel
Having second thoughts about taking Orb out drinking last night... #preakness5/18/2013, 10:25:10 PM
Others, like Chris Brown of Smart Football, made astute observations about why things went wrong for Orb:
Chris B. Brown @smartfootball
Orb had a tough race. Got squeezed a couple of times5/18/2013, 10:23:22 PM
The rest, well, we can't print those. Suffice it to say the worst possible side of social media comes out when folks don't get their way.
This entire amalgam of emotions eventually comes at the expense of the Belmont. Without a Triple Crown threat, this five-week span of races limps to its death—the sport's superficial embodiment of breaking a leg. Sure, the race will go on and some people will watch, but the intrigue has been sucked almost completely dry.
Perhaps it was David Steele of the Sporting News who put it best:
David Steele @David_C_Steele
And now we can find something else to do on Belmont day. Again.5/18/2013, 10:24:05 PM
It's ultimately a bit unfair to the people involved at Belmont. Even without a potential Triple Crown, the Stakes are one of the more interesting races in the entire sport. The mile-and-a-half-long track is a titillating test of endurance, especially for three-year-olds that have already hit the starting gate twice in such a short span.
Again, it doesn't matter. Trying to drum up excitement for this year's Belmont is like trying to save a broken marriage. You can try to talk yourselves into things like couples counseling or forced date nights, but you're only going through the motions before the inevitable, sweet end.
And that's likely what we'll be doing in these coming weeks. Perhaps we'll be able to drum up some pseudo-excitement if Orb and Oxbow both head to New York or if Rosie Napravnik again tries to make history.
Just know that we'll be happy to sign our divorce papers with the 2013 Triple Crown season come June 8.
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