When Oxbow won the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday in such dominant, wire-to-wire fashion, it was clear his status as the No. 2 long shot before the starting gates opened was woefully inaccurate.
But what made the oddsmakers dislike the 15-to-1 colt so much? D. Wayne Lukas is a Hall of Fame trainer, and with this triumph at Pimlico Race Course, no one has more Triple Crown victories in the history of horse racing.
Gary Stevens is a member of the Hall of Fame as well, and he won his third Preakness and ninth Triple Crown event overall. Prior to riding Oxbow, he had been retired for seven years.
Even before then, the 50-year-old had a resume that's hard to gloss over, per Robert Raiola:
Robert Raiola, CPA @SportsTaxMan
#Preakness winning Jockey Gary Stevens returned from his retirement in Jan. Before his comeback he had $221,212,704 career earnings. #Oxbow2013-5-18 22:40:32
In order to compel a jockey of Stevens' stature to put his significant hiatus on hold, the horse had better be strong. Oxbow was the best on this day in Baltimore, but for whatever reason, he entered significantly under the radar.
Between Lukas and Stevens, there was a whole lot of winning to dismiss, and those who wagered against Oxbow are feeling the consequences.
Stevens was thrilled to have such a rewarding return, as documented by KY Derby Contenders on Twitter:
KY Derby Contenders @DerbyContenders
Stevens on NBC: "This is obviously THE reason that I came back."2013-5-18 22:42:29
At the Kentucky Derby, traffic issues and a sloppy track caused Oxbow to fade down the final straightaway, but he still finished in a respectable sixth place for a horse who wasn't considered amongst the top contenders.
Only Mylute—who finished third on Saturday—bested Oxbow at Churchill Downs other than the reigning champion Orb. Yet respect for Oxbow was minimal at the outset of the Preakness.
Oxbow unquestionably possessed the requisite speed to contend with any of the top horses. The big question was his endurance and physical strength, which were both contributing factors as to why he fell short in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Absent inclement weather and on a shorter Pimlico track, though, the prospects of Oxbow winning should have increased far more—especially with just nine horses in the field, compared to 19 in the Kentucky Derby.
What helped was that the pace wasn't as blistering as the Derby, which made the beginning of the race not as physically demanding to begin for Oxbow.
Orb encountered traffic issues of his own in drawing the No. 1 post position, as prolific jockey Joel Rosario could not quite get away from the rail. Thus, his horse was stuck, and couldn't recover adequately to continue his bid for horse racing's pinnacle.
That's not to take anything away from Oxbow, of course, because Stevens' experience proved to be an invaluable asset, and Lukas' savvy work with him certainly didn't hurt the cause.
As for what's next, Stevens isn't going to walk away after this fantastic win. Rather, he has the belief that he can keep going (h/t Preakness Stakes on Twitter):
Preakness Stakes @PreaknessStakes
Gary Stevens "what about the Belmont?" I can't wait until 3-weeks @preakness @pimlico2013-5-18 23:42:26
One could argue that it would be outlandish to pick a horse that finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby and sixth at Churchill Downs. Having said that, Stevens' first mount atop Oxbow was at the former race, and he was still getting a feel for how to work him.
Everyone loves an underdog story—except one that spoils a Triple Crown bid. Perhaps in some sort of karmic, obscure way, the oddsmakers are to blame.
Oxbow was disrespected and underestimated at the Preakness. In a run where he finally put everything together, he proved not only the unpredictability of horse racing itself, but also how much jockey and trainer tandems mean on the biggest stages.