Palace Malice's epic run to victory Saturday at the 145th Belmont Stakes further proved that the only thing you can surely say about the 2013 Triple Crown season is that it was unpredictable.
It's hard to believe from where we stood before the season that the Triple Crown would come down to Palace Malice, Oxbow and Orb. Going down the stretch at the final leg, it was up to any of them, as Palace Malice tried to hold off Oxbow as Orb shot out for his signature late push.
But it would've been far too predictable for the Belmont to end with Orb or Oxbow reaching the incredible feat of winning two legs at the Triple Crown, wouldn't it?
That's what Palace Malice was thinking, as the thoroughbred put together a great run from start to finish and further complicated this season of horse racing.
Upon entering the Kentucky Derby slate, it seemed as if there were a handful of horses that were pegged as favorites for the first leg of the Triple Crown. Very few of them ran well, but the one that did was morning-line favorite Orb.
Perhaps the most surprising development from Churchill Downs was who finished in second. Golden Soul surely wasn't the "Golden" horse as far as pre-race hype goes; the Rick Pitino-owned Goldencents emerged as a favorite instead. But the underrated contender with 34-1 odds, via KentuckyDerby.com, seemingly had the race won in the final stretch, before Orb found his late fuel and surged past him.
Which victory was most surprising?
Immediately, talk began of Orb and how he had a considerable shot at the elusive Triple Crown.
In the nine-horse race at the Preakness Stakes, though, Orb never got going and never showed the promising late run that we've grown accustomed to from the popular thoroughbred. Instead, he was pushed out of contention as Oxbow used a thrilling start-to-finish victory to seal the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.
While the Derby at Churchill Downs boasted a morning-line favorite as the winner, that story didn't ring true at all in the second leg of the Triple Crown. A horse other than Orb, Mylute, Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday winning that race would've been a shock.
Oxbow came in with the second-lowest odds in the field at 15-1, as per Preakness.com, but that didn't stop the D. Wayne Lukas thoroughbred from getting out to an early lead and keeping it past a slew of hungry competition.
Orb simply looked nothing like a Triple Crown contender during the Preakness, despite all of the talk beforehand about his chances of breaking the horse racing barrier. He wasn't able to get any space, even in a nine-horse field as opposed to the 19 horses at Churchill Downs.
Oxbow's against-the-odds victory marked a career accomplishment for jockey Gary Stevens, who is regarded as one of the sport's all-time greats, per ESPN's Twitter account:
3 wins in the Derby, 3 wins at Belmont, and now 3 wins in the #Preakness for jockey Gary Stevens. What a wire-to-wire win for Oxbow!— ESPN (@espn) May 18, 2013
So, it seemed as if it was surely up to Orb and Oxbow in the final leg at the Belmont Stakes.
Instead, it was underdog Palace Malice who surprised the horse racing world yet again in this year's Triple Crown slate.
After putting multiple horses in the running for the Kentucky Derby and at Belmont, trainer Todd Pletcher finally found his gem and it likely wasn't the one he had expected heading into the season.
The improbable win only proved what we had already seen this season—the Triple Crown is just far too unpredictable.