We're just mere hours from the running of the 138th Preakness Stakes on Saturday, but already folks have begun looking forward three weeks.
Oxbow’s shocking scamper to a wire-to-wire win left some shocked and others listless. Orb’s run to give the sport its first Triple Crown winner since 1978 fell short. And with a showdown between the two possibly in the offing, it’s hard to not be intrigued by what lies ahead at June’s Belmont Stakes.
Looking ahead is in the nature of our sports culture at this point. When an NBA contender defeats the champion during the regular season, we look deeper and try to judge whether it's an indicative sign of the future rather than appreciating the moment.
And that looking-ahead feeling is especially prevalent in horse racing. The Triple Crown structure is built upon rapid reaction followed by instant speculation. From the moment a Kentucky Derby winner captures the roses, it’s onto talking about how the horse will fare at the Preakness—a cycle that only repeats itself.
The problem with doing that for the Belmont is that the field is almost entirely in flux. With no chance at a Triple Crown lingering and creating mainstream pandemonium, owners and trainers will likely be judicious with their horses' well-being. It’s wholly possible that we see Orb or Oxbow pull out of the race in the coming weeks, so it makes little sense to speculate on the actual race.
Instead, let’s take a look at a few Preakness notables we want to see in the Belmont field.
Let’s just get the easiest one out of the way first. Everyone wants to see Oxbow at the Belmont not because he can win a Triple Crown or has potential to be remembered among the greats, but because heading into Saturday’s race, Oxbow was little more than an afterthought. He was trained by the 77-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, but was one of three horses in the field brought along by the Hall of Famer. And at 16-1 odds, only Titletown Five had worse odds than Oxbow by the time they hit the gate.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, magic happened. Gary Stevens pushed his horse hard out of the gate and Oxbow responded swimmingly. The colt got off to an early lead, one that he would never relinquish despite late-charging opponents. Stevens and Oxbow’s run gave the duo the first wire-to-wire victory at Pimlico since 1982.
Not bad for a horse thought of as little more than an anonymous four-legged extra in Orb’s feature film.
Now it will be interesting to see who plays the villain—if anyone—in the proposed sequel.
While anything can change over the next couple weeks, all signs point to Oxbow being in the field. Following Saturday’s race, trainer D. Wayne Lukas noted that Oxbow’s owners are “very aggressive” and that the Belmont was probably in the offing, per Derby Contenders.
What will be notable about Oxbow’s run next time around is that he’ll have to adjust course. At 1.5 miles, the Belmont is by far the lengthiest Triple Crown race, the Roger Bannister to the Preakness’ 100-meter dash.
There won’t be any dashing out of the front gate in June. Riders consistently take a more conservative approach at the Belmont, usually staying within the pack until slingshotting at the very end.
Will Oxbow be patient enough to pull it off? Who knows, but it would be a profound disappointment if we didn’t find out.
If it were possible to sue a horse—and I sure as hell hope it isn’t—plenty of high-rolling gamblers would file class-action suits against Orb for his run on Saturday. Heading into the Preakness as the largest favorite since Big Brown in 2008, Orb trudged his way to a fourth-place finish.
For the horse deemed most likely in a half-decade to win a Triple Crown, it was an all-around disappointing performance. Starting on the inside post, Orb was pushed to the back of the pack and almost never was able to get going. Seeing Orb race was like watching two people talking with another friend wedged in between—eventually someone was going to get squeezed out.
And while Orb put up a valiant effort to get out of that assemblage of four-legged Equidae, there was no second gear in the Derby winner on Saturday. As horses like Mylute went blowing by in the outside lane, Orb stayed at a consistent pace.
Jockey Joel Rosario, himself taking a bit of flack for the ride, talked about his horse’s inability to find that extra push after the race, per the Lexington Herald-Leader’s horse racing Twitter feed:
Rosario on Orb "When I got to the half mile pole, he had a hard time keeping up. I used my stick to try to get him going. He just steadied."— horseracinghl (@horseracinghl) May 18, 2013
In many cases, a whimpering performance like that would lead to a skipping of the Belmont for the Derby winner. The lack of burst could be an injury we don’t yet know about—there has been no news of an ailment—or simply that Orb was tired from fending off the on-comers pushing inward against his space.
We’ll never know what went wrong at the Preakness, but we may be able to crystallize Orb’s legacy at the Belmont. If Orb is able to come away with a victory at the Belmont, we may forever wonder if a Triple Crown winner was lost in last Wednesday’s draw.
We should get to find out. Belmont is Orb’s home track.
Mylute jockey Rosie Napravnik may not have gotten the win at her home track on Saturday, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The rising star kicked her colt into high gear down the stretch, as Mylute came from the middle of the pack all the way to third at the end.
Had the race gone a few more lengths, Mylute likely would have passed Itsmyluckyday for second with ease. It was a script that played almost exactly like Napravnik and Mylute’s run at the Kentucky Derby, where the duo charged a little too late en route to a fifth-place finish.
Even in those slight disappointments, Napravnik has made history. She became the highest-finishing female jockey in the history of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness this year, breaking her own record in the former event.
While there won’t be any records available to be broken at the Belmont—Julie Krone became the only female Triple Crown race-winning jockey in 1993 at the track—this feels like the best possible place for Napravnik to make some history. She finished fifth riding Five Sixteen last year and showed some real promise on the lengthier surface.
If the last two races are any indication, Mylute seems built for the long haul. If June’s event turns into a last-ditch sprint to the finish the way it does most years, preparing to grab Mylute’s morning line number seems advisable three weeks out.
So long as they join the fun, of course.