Cold hearted orb
That rules the night
Removes the colors
From our sight
Red is gray and
Yellow white
But we decide
Which is right
And
Which is an Illusion


ELMONT, NY, May 21, 2013--Music fans were unsure what Justin Hayward had in mind when he wrote those lyrics for the Moody Blues nearly a half century ago, and so the interpretation of the entire piece, “Nights in White Satin,” briefly became a cottage industry unto itself.

The story of yearning love from afar was the popular notion, but the lyrics turned out to be the autobiographical story of one relationship ending and another beginning, according to its author.

In the same fashion, racing fans are trying to interpret another Orb these days, deciding which is right; the Orb that dominated his rivals in Florida and Kentucky, or were those hints of greatness only an illusion?

No one knew it at the time, not the horse’s trainer, jockey, or owners, believing they were entering another scale-weights classic. What they failed to realize was that Preakness 138 was a handicap.

And Orb could not carry the weight of the entire racing world on Saturday in Baltimore.

Maybe the pursuit of the Triple Crown isn’t good for the game after all. It’s a feat that’s seldom achieved; a test almost never passed, and given that it’s been at least 40 years since Thoroughbred racing was in the sports mainstream, most casual fans utter a collective sigh: “Well, that’s that, now I don’t have to pay attention to racing again for another year.”

In the run-up to the Belmont Stakes, the sport is left with the hope of the rubber match that defines the “Test of the Champion.” Invariably, Double Crown winners earn Eclipse Awards at season’s end, too. But, like he has done all winter and spring, Shug McGaughey will take his cue from Orb.

In the face of such disappointment, all are seeking answers. There are several theories that make sense: For now, Orb remains a very good horse but not one of the ones.

Until Saturday at 6:20 p.m., greatness was an option; given that his three-year-old season had been a revelation and that he appeared nowhere near the bottom of his talents.

But horses make liars of us all, even a brilliant Hall of Famer like McGaughey. In the two weeks leading up to Preakness, Orb was telling him all is well. His blowout was good—maybe too good.

Still, nothing brings out the bounce in a horse more than the stress of real competition in the afternoon.

You can blame Joel Rosario for showing some indecisiveness in the running. Take back and go outside? No. Make a premature mid-race move, heretofore not the colt’s best game? That didn’t work either. Rally successfully inside? Not yet.

With a half-mile left to run, Orb emptied out. Anyone who’s been around the game longer than five minutes knows something like that is possible any time you lead a horse over to the front-side for a race. But it’s still no less a shock when you see it.

Suddenly there’s a different kind of pressure on McGaughey now. You know that he and his owners would like nothing better than to support their hometown base and give Triple Crown fans a rubber match in the Belmont. But how a 12-furlong run impacts the rest of the season is the question.

And McGaughey has said more than once that he’d like to have a fresh horse for Saratoga. The Preakness, after all, was his fifth race since January 26, “and it’s only May.”

In Saratoga, Orb will need to be all he can be to handle the likes of Verrazano, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and the rest of the division’s top echelon. Until then, the greatness jury will remain out.

Meanwhile, the 77-year-old Darrell Wayne Lukas has had his legend etched in stone with a 14th victory in a Triple Crown race, including a sixth Preakness, while 50-year-old Gary Stevens started working on his mythological status.

And to think that if HBO hadn’t canceled the racing series “Luck,” there would have been no ninth Triple Crown victory for Stevens, no third Preakness, and instead he would have taken his seat on the sidelines alongside Tom Hammond and Randy Moss.

Lukas and Stevens played Oxbow like a violin. After Mike Smith made too much use of Oxbow in the Rebel, Stevens took the reins for the Arkansas Derby, took the colt back, which he resented and was never a threat.

Stevens said he learned something that day. Lukas said it also gave him more knowledge on how best to train Oxbow. Then came the Derby, which amounted to a speed prep for the Preakness.

In fact, the Derby effort was, according to Equiform methodology, a New Pace Top. Indeed, two Preakness New Pace Tops finished 1-2; Orb regressed off his big energy move in the Derby.

Of course, Lukas had already done enough, building his empire by recruiting owners from the nouveau riche, such as Gene Klein, using big money to buy yearlings that would race against turf scions such as the Phipps family and Greentree Stable and Darby Dan Farm and King Ranch.

And now Lukas has come full circle with Brad Kelley, the new master of Calumet Farm. Old school tradition might have taken a different form, but in 2013 it was Phipps/Janney in the Derby and Calumet in the Preakness. And for that, the sport has the old ball coach to thank.

BETS N’ PIECES: Oxbow had the race won after Kevin Krigger, who had the right idea stalking, allowed Oxbow to run pressure free; game over…Given the early fractions, perhaps Itsmyluckyday also should have raced closer to the leader, too, instead of being left with too much to do…

The Washington Post asked its readership on Preakness morning whether the Triple Crown series was too compressed. Of course not. Every year those beaten Derby horses are just dying to race a mile and a half; five weeks has nothing to do with it…

The pre-Preakness rain showers certainly didn’t help the speed of the surface but if, according to some observers, the rail was the slowest part for weeks, why was no effort made to insure that the deeper surface was a more level playing field? Track superintendents win and lose more races than all trainers and jockeys combined…

If the sport is all that dead, why were overnight ratings for both the Derby and Preakness up this year…? Understandable that Preakness handle was down slightly, owing to a 9-horse field that featured a 7-10 favorite, but all-sources handle for the day was up 2 percent thanks to an excellent supporting card…

Note to Churchill Downs stockholders: Check the result charts from Derby and Preakness day and note the handle relationship between trifecta and superfecta wagering. On the Derby card, where no Dime Supers were offered, the betting ratio between the TRI and Super was roughly 4-to-1. At Pimlico, where Dime Supers were permitted, the ratio was closer to 2-to-1. Seems simple; in the overall, fractional wagering is better for business.