Friday, May 17, 2013
There is Orb and there is everyone else in the Preakness
Orb stands so far above the rest of the 3-year-old class that it's difficult to single out which of his eight rivals represents the biggest threat to him in the Preakness. All Orb has to do is run his race without experiencing horrendous racing luck to head to Belmont Park with a big shot to end the Triple Crown draught.
This thought occurred to me Sunday morning when I was putting together my contribution to the weekly Inside Horse Racing Triple Crown Poll. Orb at No. 1 was easy. The Kentucky Derby winner has been atop my poll since the Florida Derby.
The challenge came when I pondered who to make Nos. 2, 3, 4, etc. A mischievous instinct tempted me to slot Orb at No. 1 and â€śEveryone Elseâ€ť at No. 2. Alas, I knew this wasnâ€™t going to fly with John Pricci, who encourages provocative thought and expressionâ€¦to a point.
But this is how I assess the 3-year-old picture at this point.
Big favorites go down every day. A horrid trip, a poorly judged ride, a bad day physically could undermine Orb. But it will take something extraordinary to deny him the second jewel of the Triple Crown. If each of the nine Preakness entrants brings his â€śAâ€ť game, is there any doubt who wins? Not with me.
Apparently this is also true of several major players in the game. The three horses closest to Orb at the end of the Kentucky Derby want no more of him Saturday. Todd Pletcher started five in the Derby as well as at least one in just about every significant 3-year-old stakes in the East, South and Midwest this winter. Heâ€™s sending no one to the Preakness.
Orb beat every top 3-year-old in Florida this winter, either at Gulfstream or in Kentucky. He vanquished Violence in the Fountain of Youth when Violence was the most accomplished 3-year-old around. In the Florida Derby, Orb ran past Itsmyluckyday, who was coming off decisive scores in the Gulfstream Derby and Holy Bull. He didnâ€™t get a shot at Verrazano until the Run for the Roses.
Look at how horses who spent the winter in Florida did when Orb wasnâ€™t around: Revolutionary won the Louisiana Derby, Overanalyze took the Arkansas Derby, Verrazano extended his unbeaten streak in the Wood Memorial and Javaâ€™s War upset the Blue Grass. Combined with Orb's Florida Derby, this represents a clean sweep of the 100-point races east of the Mississippi and west of Dubai.
So the question becomes is there any reason to think Orb wonâ€™t bring his â€śAâ€ť game? Not off his final workout. Low key Shug McGaughey, who would describe Secretariatâ€™s Belmont as a nice race, said Orbâ€™s work took his breath away. Others said it was more impressive than his pre-Kentucky Derby workout at Churchill Downs, which was assessed by many as the work of Derby week.
So if you want to price shop and play against Orb, it will not be on the basis of any sound handicapping principle. A sobering thought for those of that mind is the Preakness is by far the most formful of the Triple Crown races.
Seven of the last dozen Preakness winners have been the betting favorite. One of the five who didnâ€™t come through was the ill-fated Barbaro. Kentucky Derby winner Iâ€™ll Have Another went off second choice to Bodemeister last year. IHA became the eighth Derby winner in the past 16 years to repeat in Baltimore. Seventeen of the last 27 odds-on favorites in the Preakness have won. Those are winning percentages the late Oscar Barrera would admire.
Only two Preakness winners in the past 29 years have gone off at double digit odds. One was Bernardini in Barbaroâ€™s Preakness. The other was Shackleford in 2011.
So those looking to score big while betting small are up against the odds in more ways than one.
On the other hand, you could come up with the horses to fill out the exacta, tri and super by pulling names out of a hat and feel good about your chances.
An indication of this came from Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli, who said he made Mylute the 5-1 second choice because the Preakness crowd will heavily back his jockey Rosie Napravnik. No disrespect to Rosie or Mylute, who very well could be that good. But is this what handicapping the Triple Crown has been reduced to?
The more likely second choice will be Illinois Derby winner Departing, who sat out the Kentucky Derby pointing for this race. Heâ€™s from the people who thwarted history with Blame, denying Zenyatta an undefeated career in the 2010 Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic.
But before getting carried away with the â€śnowâ€ť horse, keep in mind that the two horses closest to Departing at Hawthorne were Fordubai and Siete de Oros. His other stakes win came in the Texas Heritage. When Departing tried classier company in the Louisiana Derby, he was a non-menacing third.
Four others command respect as much for their trainer as their accomplishments. D. Wayne Lukas has threeâ€”Will Take Charge, Oxbow and Titletown Fiveâ€”with the first two each having run a race strong enough to hit the board at Pimlico. Bob Baffert jumps on the Triple Crown trail with Govenor Charlie, who was kept out of the Derby with a minor ailment. The misspelled Guvâ€™s big credit is the Sunland Derby, where he had less behind him than Departing did in Chicago.
If thereâ€™s a sleeper, itâ€™s Goldencents, whose 17th-place finish in the Derby was too bad to be true. Doug Oâ€™Neillâ€™s charge rebounded from a dull San Felipe to run huge in the Santa Anita Derby. Maybe he can turn it around again and give Oâ€™Neill another Preakness triumph.
Itsmyluckyday also is a better horse than he showed in Louisville and has worked well since. Nothing wrong with Elvis Trujillo but heâ€™s not Johnny Velazquez, who takes over in the saddle.
It comes down to this. Something good has to happen for one of the other eight to spring an upset. All Orb needs do is run his race.