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Wednesday, October 02, 2013


The Fall of Orb


The Jockey Club Gold Cup likely had, what, a third of the Breeders’ Cup Classic field in a month’s time? That was a nice, hard-knockin’ kind of field. What as the bigger shock? Ron the Greek almost running off the screen, or Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, finishing last?

I wrote not too long ago that I thought this would be The Autumn of Orb, turns out it’s going to be The Fall of Orb. I don’t see how he bounces out of this race and runs back to the form that made him the scariest threat to win the Triple Crown since Big Brown. At least Big Brown won the Preakness.

Orb looked like he was galloping for 10 furlongs without the slightest sense of urgency. The thing is, Orb never gave his connections any indication, so they say, that he’d run no faster than a pig at the county fair.

"Going over [to saddle for the Jockey Club Gold Cup], I think we were all very, very confident, and it was disappointing, to say the least,” said Buzz Tenney, assistant to Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey.

Leading up to and through the Triple Crown, we were all wearing Shug Goggles when it came to Orb. Because of the care he takes with his horses, the stock on Orb was higher than it should have been. But maybe, more poignantly, winning the Derby doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good horse.

The Derby is probably won, first and foremost, by the luckiest horse. The horse, by most accounts, still has to have some talent, but by and large the luckiest horse wins.

War Emblem, in 2002, won the Derby and Preakness, but didn’t do much after that. Funny Cide won the Derby and Preakness, but didn’t do much until his four-year-old year. Giacomo, in 2005, won the Derby, but took a year to win another race. Mine That Bird, in 2009, never won again. Super Saver, in 2010, never won again. If we remove our Shug Goggles, maybe Orb is just another horse who was plenty nice enough to win the Derby and, well, nothing else.

Orb may have been lucky that Palace Malice had blinkers on in the Derby taking him out of his game, setting brutal fractions and taking several other contenders right out of the race. Palace Malice has proven to be the cream of the three-year-old crop (Go, Curlin!).

No thanks to several trainers following the Kentucky Derby, the fall of Orb burns all the more because he was handed the Triple Crown. So many folks are starving for a Triple Crown winner and Orb was it. If the Darkness nearly won it 2008, then the lightness was set to restore balance this year.

So Orb finished fourth in the Preakness. Then third in the Belmont. Then third in the Travers. Then last in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

His move on the turn in the Travers was so strong that it appeared to be the type of move that wins two-turn races. With some extra conditioning, he could sustain it the way he did in Kentucky. He’d already raced at Belmont, a respectable third, so it appeared that 10 furlongs at Big Sandy would be a recipe for great things. I know I wasn’t alone in thinking he’d win.

Orb is down at Fair Hill, the same resort he visited after the Belmont Stakes. Frankly, he shouldn’t be so fatigued that he needs to be holed up like Howard Hughes, putting his hooves in tissue boxes.

After this he must fly across the country to tackle the likes of Game On Dude, Palace Malice, Ron the Greek (bounce?), Flat Out and Royal Delta (maybe?).

The fall of Orb stings all the more since his heights were once so unspeakably tall.


Written by Brendan O'Meara

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