They always say the biggest upsets come when you least expect it, and that was certainly the case in Saturday's 138th running of the Preakness Stakes.
Oxbow, a 16-1 underdog and widely disregarded horse coming into the Preakness, shocked everyone at Pimlico Race Course by winning the Preakness Saturday. Ridden by the legendary Gary Stevens, the three-year-old colt scampered to a wire-to-wire triumph.
Obviously, that result means a premature end to Kentucky Derby winner Orb's Triple Crown run. Starting at the inside post, Orb struggled to get around the mass of bodies funneling to the inside lane and wound up finishing fourth.
Itsmyluckyday carried a strong ride throughout to come in second while pre-race darling Rosie Napravnik pushed Mylute to a third-place finish down the stretch.
Here is a look at how the rest of the field played out, along with payouts from Saturday's event:
|1||Oxbow||Gary Stevens||D. Wayne Lukas||6||$32.80, $12.00, $6.80||$620,000|
|2||Itsmyluckyday||John Velazquez||Eddie Plesa Jr.||9||$7.80, $5.00||$200,000|
|3||Mylute||Rosie Napravnik||Tom Amoss||5||$5.20||$100,000|
|4||Orb||Joel Rosario||Shug McGaughey||1||$50,000|
|5||Goldencents||Kevin Krigger||Doug O'Neill||2||$30,000|
|6||Departing||Brian Hernandez Jr||Albert M. Stall, Jr||4||$0|
|7||Will Take Charge||Mike Smith||D. Wayne Lukas||7||$0|
|8||Govenor Charlie||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||8||$0|
|9||Titletown Five||Julien Leparoux||D. Wayne Lukas||3 || ||$0|
Results via NBC telecast, payouts via America's Best Racing.
In the grand scheme of things, most of the focus in the coming days will be on Orb. The Derby champion came into Saturday's race as a 5-7 favorite (per Bovada) and many viewed him as the best Triple Crown threat since Big Brown in 2008.
But it was obvious from the opening gate that Orb did not the rocket-fuel-injector second gear he had at Churchill Downs. The horse, jockeyed by Joel Rosario, fought back after being shuffled near the back of the pack, yet that was all he could muster. By the time the stretch run hit, Orb was nowhere to be found as Oxbow held off all comers to stay in front.
Oxbow's ascent was almost unforeseen heading into Saturday's race. His $32.60 payout is one of the greatest in Preakness history, a race that usually bets down the odds due to a relatively small field. And it wasn't a case of luck for Oxbow, either. According to Derby Contenders' Twitter feed, Oxbow was the first wire-to-wire Preakness winner in over three decades:
Oxbow first wire to wire #Preakness winner since 1982.— KY Derby Contenders (@DerbyContenders) May 18, 2013
While all involved will have the next few days to bask in the glow of their win, next month's Belmont Stakes lingers. The Triple Crown capper is often the biggest litmus test in all of horse racing, the type of event that separates great thoroughbreds from the very good.
With the caveat that this is extremely early, here's a quick look at how we think Oxbow will fare at Belmont.
Obviously, we first have to know whether or not Oxbow will be in fine enough form to make the trip up to New York on June 8. Though the three-year-old colt (obviously) showed no signs of wear in Saturday's dominant performance, but the workload for these horses often goes unmentioned. Running three high-profile races in the span of five weeks can take an immeasurable toll on even the most fit of horses.
Many non-Triple Crown-contending owners and trainers will pull their horse out of the Belmont simply as a precautionary measure. These horses make for quite the secondary payday once they're put out to stud, and jeopardizing monetary windfall and health of the thoroughbreds often takes precedent.
That being said, all signs point toward Oxbow being in the field in a few weeks. D. Wayne Lukas spoke to reporters after the race and said Oxbow's owners, Bluegrass Hall LLC, are the type of aggressive folks who would be amenable to allowing their horse to enter the Belmont, per Derby Contenders:
Lukas says Oxbow owner "very agressive" so Belmont seems likely.— KY Derby Contenders (@DerbyContenders) May 18, 2013
Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who came out of retirement recently, seems to share the owners' aggressiveness. As noted by Rick Snider of the Washington Examiner, Stevens was essentially calling all comers to the Belmont Stakes after Saturday's race:
Stevens openly dared anyone to try Oxbow in the Belmont. Even if he's a double crown winner, he's not a great horse.— Rick Snider (@Snide_Remarks) May 18, 2013
While it's impossible to discount Oxbow, there will definitely be some strategic adjustments needed between the Preakness and Belmont if he wants to have a chance. Oxbow was able to capture the Preakness by starting on a torrid pace ahead of the pack and winning a wire-to-wire thrill ride. There was almost no time in that two-minute run that Oxbow wasn't going all-out.
How will Oxbow fare at the Belmont?
That won't fly at the Belmont. With a mile-and-a-half track length, the New York-based track is seen as easily the most daunting of the three Triple Crown races. It's a test of the horse's endurance, the jockey's patience and a cavalcade of other factors that go into the sport. Belmont, though rarely carrying high intrigue without a Triple Crown contender, is often the most interesting race for the hardcore fan's perspective.
Can Oxbow navigate those conditions? It seems doubtful. The colt was 16-1 odds coming into the Preakness for a reason. Horse racing by and large is fluke-driven at its core, but to see a mildly regarded thoroughbred take two of the three Triple Crown races is a bit of a stretch.
Plus, Belmont is Orb's home track. Look for the Derby winner to get back on track (pun intended) and Oxbow to take a very respectable show home for his efforts.
Belmont Prediction: Third Place