05/17/2013 3:53PM



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.