05/17/2013 3:53PM

Sleepers

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Most followers of the Triple Crown season have been under the impression that Orb’s terse, unlyrical name is inspired by that of his sire, Malibu Moon, which does paint a pretty picture. But not so, and who knew that Dinny Phipps and Stu Janney were big fans of Woody Allen’s earlier work? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAKWKfVcd04

Count your blessings. They could have named him “Orgasmatron.”

Like most of the cynical romantics who populate the racing scene year-round, I will approach the Preakness on Saturday hoping for the best and knowing how unlikely that is to happen. Once you’ve witnessed John Rotz and Manny Ycaza wrestle each other aboard Greek Money and Ridan, or Riva Ridge sink in the Maryland mud, or Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure duel each other into the ground, or Codex carry Genuine Risk to the parking lot, or Bill Shoemaker take a nap aboard Linkage, or Sunny’s Halo come down with hives and Deputed Testamony win from off the Boniface farm…well, it’s hard to count on any Derby winner no matter how impressive they were in Louisville.

The Kentucky Derby is a horse race like Il Palio di Siena is a horse race (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjGNMvfYb_E), or the chariot scene from Ben Hur (http://movieclips.com/nmXGu-ben-hur-movie-the-chariot-race/). I got a kick out of comments by some jockeys that the recent running of the Derby was such a cleanly run affair, so trouble free, as if every horse had rose petals strewn before them as they gamboled around the Downs. Context please…there is no such thing as a trouble-free race when 20 horses are placed on a one-mile oval and someone screams “Go!” When a jockey says it was a cleanly run Derby that simply means everyone walked away from it in one piece.

I like the Preakness as a horse race because it looks like the kind of horse race for which Thoroughbreds are traditionally prepared. The field can be as large as a dozen or so, which is fine, and the track can be something less than fast. The Pimlico turns are not as tight as legend has it (an optical illusion because the width of the track is narrower than that of Churchill Downs by 10 feet), and the run from the top of the stretch to the finish is 30 yards shorter than the seemingly eternal final straight at the Derby.

Of course, the Preakness does suffer terribly from the run-up to the Derby, when many top 3-year-olds are cooked in the quest to make the first Saturday in May. It would have been a thrill to have seen proven 8-9 furlong horses like Verrazano, Flashback, Normandy Invasion, Revolutionary, Violence and Hear the Ghost in the Preakness field, but no such luck. The Derby was their raison d’etre, the Preakness barely an afterthought.

By now every schoolchild knows that the game has gone 35 years since Affirmed won the Triple Crown to cap a decade that included Secretariat and Seattle Slew. I think I heard it first from Andy Beyer, or perhaps Jim Murray back in the late 1990’s, who said the reason it had been so long between Triple Crown winners was because there had never been another horse come along yet quite like Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Affirmed.

And yet, when a horse wins the Derby like Orb -- or Fusaichi Pegasus, or Barbaro, or Big Brown -- with an apparent ease that belies the difficulty of the task, expectations soar and talk of a Triple Crown commences. Yes, a case can be made that Orb is better prepared to stand the gaff of the series better than Charismatic, or I’ll Have Another, or War Emblem, or that he does not have the thoroughly proven challengers faced by Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet or Funny Cide. Orb has Shug McGaughey and Joel Rosario in his corner, goes the thinking, which should give him the edge in the Preakness, just like Derby winner Foolish Pleasure had LeRoy Jolley and Jacinto Vasquez, Derby winner Swale had Woody Stephens and Laffit Pincay, and Derby winner Thunder Gulch had Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens. For all their talent, it wasn't enough to get them through Baltimore unscathed.

Strange things can happen at Pimlico, mostly because is it not the Kentucky Derby, which is why no one should be all that surprised if a colt like Goldencents pulls a Hansel from 1991 and rises from the ashes of his disappointing Derby to give Orb all he can handle on Saturday. So get tied on. This should be fun.

 

Surasak More than 1 year ago
Jay, you said it well " well, it’s hard to count on any Derby winner no matter how impressive they were in Louisville."
charles b More than 1 year ago
As handicappers and horseplayers I would remind everyone that each race, each track and each distance makes for a completely new "problem" to evaluate objectively. What ORB did in the Derby had NO relevance to the Preakness. It was comparing apples to oranges. With that in mind, I boxed the 1,6,7 9 in both the exacta and tri. It paid off in hitting the exacta. The Belmont must be handicapped differently than the two previous links in the T.C. By the way Jay, your book on Charlie Whittingham was a great read.
Jewel Green More than 1 year ago
Jay, you were so on to it. The Preakness was wide open and a new race. Everyone had the Derby in there mind as if it was an instant replay. Wake up this is horse racing ######Happens. Finally someone with some vision. Tell Julie shes still the best not Rosie
Jordan More than 1 year ago
You were on the right path Jay, but it was Oxbow not Goldencents. Some might not like NBC's converage of the Triple Crown, but their look at the Preakness failures of recent late-running Derby winners was spot-on. Personally, I thought if Street Sense couldn't accomplish the Derby-Preakness double as a closer, then Orb was a poor bet. And 15-1 on Oxbow, one of the few horses near the pace in the Derby to be anywhere close at the finish, was remarkable. Of course, I had already decided not to make it out to Hollywood Park and so was confined to simply watching the race on tv, no betting.
MaryAnn Donahue More than 1 year ago
Well Mr. Hovdey, you were correct. You didn't name Oxbow as the winner but you explained the scenario perfectly. Your columns are consistently, a cut above. Thank you. But, I am disappointed that Orb couldn't get to Belmont with a chance at the TC. There was way too much writing about a TC before the Preakness was even run.
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
As usual the most interesting column in DRF.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Its gonna be fate, they grew up together, claiborne, phipps ect ect. No reason to rush departing to yum brands, he;s a gelding, hope to run him past soph season, they should put away the field at 1/8 pole, then its orb/depart hd & hd to wire, #4 wins
P3Tacco More than 1 year ago
Jay, it's good to see someone looking at this as a horserace...not a coronation. I believe other writers will regret their hubris when either Goldencents, Gov Charlie et al get the first jump on Orb.
Steven Rolf More than 1 year ago
Gc is no hansel. H didn't lose the derby by fifty.
Richard Blakley More than 1 year ago
On balance, I think I would rather hear Mrs. Hovdey's Preakness selection. The logical contortions of the wannabe wise guy public handicappers trying to dismiss a decidedly superior animal suggest only that they have a great future as yoga studio operators.
Easy call More than 1 year ago
You do know the richest guy on the racetrack books the bets of jockeys!!
Jacques More than 1 year ago
ORB!!!