05/16/2013 9:36AM

Steven Crist: Each of Orb's races is better than the last

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Barbara D. Livingston
Orb working at Belmont Park on Monday morning. Trainer Shug McGaughey has called his recent works "breathtaking" and "magnificent."

In many years, a Kentucky Derby winner who won the roses on a wet track with a modest Beyer Speed Figure of 104 would be only a tepid favorite for the second leg of the Triple Crown. On Saturday, however, Orb will be even money or less in the 138th Preakness Stakes – and it’s hard to argue with either his price or his prospects of victory.

There are three good reasons why Orb deserves to be a shorter price than his bare credentials might suggest. First, he probably is an even better horse than he looks on paper, with plenty of room for improvement. Second, he emerges from a Derby that was remarkably clean and trouble-free. Finally, the eight who will line up against him at Pimlico on Saturday are a much less imposing group than he beat at Churchill Downs and do not include the Derby’s second-, third-, or fourth-place finishers.

Orb is not the kind of Derby winner who won the race by default, or because others misfired, or because he ran an uncharacteristically explosive race that you want to see him repeat before believing in him. Every one of his races this year has been better than the last, and each time, he did what he had to do under his own steam. He can stalk and pounce or settle in and make a big run as circumstances dictate.

He leaves the impression that there’s more to him than we’ve seen, and the way he’s trained since the Derby suggests we’ll see yet another career-best performance Saturday. Shug McGaughey, his trainer, usually uses “nice” as a superlative, but he’s called Orb’s recent works “breathtaking” and “magnificent.” Be very afraid.

Nothing about the Derby left you thinking that any of his opponents would have won had the race and the traffic unfolded differently. A few ran so badly compared with their previous form that they deserve another chance, which is why Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday are back for another try.

[PREAKNESS STAKES: Live updates and live video from Pimlico]

For the horses who had clean trips, though, including returnees Mylute (fifth) and Oxbow (sixth), it’s going to take a severe reversal of form to put them ahead of Orb. Will Take Charge (eighth) did lose a stride or two when Verrazano stopped in front of him, but he did little running thereafter.

The absence of the 2-3-4 finishers from the Derby continues an unwelcome trend of such horses increasingly skipping the Preakness. If you’re not alive for the Triple Crown, the thinking goes, why not get the extra rest for the Belmont?

This may make sense on a case-by-case basis – Empire Maker, for example, needed the time to get over physical problems that may have cost him the Derby – but it’s a good thing that horses such as Afleet Alex (third in 2005), Curlin (third in 2007) and Shackleford (fourth in 2010) gave it another try in the Preakness and won two weeks after losing in Louisville, Ky.

The defections of Derby runners-up from the Preakness also has something to do with the perceived quality of the Derby winner. The only two recent Preaknesses to lack the 2-3-4 Derby finishers were those won most dominantly, by Barbaro in 2006 and Big Brown in 2008. No one was eager to run back against either of them, and the same goes for Orb.

Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday strike me as the likeliest upsetters, if there is one, because they’re the only entrants to have fired a race in the same league as Orb’s Derby, whereas anyone else will have to take a very big step forward. It’s hard to have much confidence in either, however, as they may have peaked and may prove to be at their best going less than nine furlongs.

Departing is a nice, improving gelding but is taking a huge step up in class. The horses he just beat in the Illinois Derby all hadn’t done enough to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, so Orb beat 18 more accomplished horses in Louisville than Departing faced in Cicero, Ill.

So, let’s try them in that order: Orb, Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday, and Departing, with the added hope that Orb wins with the authority that leaves us talking about him, and not the spotty field that he beat in Baltimore, as the series moves on to Belmont.

Diego Garcia More than 1 year ago
Orb para mi debe ganar con el favor de Dios el Belmont Stakes, el Travers Stakes y el Breeders' Cup Classic.
Richard Tihamam More than 1 year ago
2 days ago i said Oxbow was the one to beat, i was right. Shug & Lukas are blooming in their 70s, thank you for exciting races and the spirit of young-at-hearts.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I agree with almost everything Steven Crist had to say except his take on Will Take Charge. WTC's momentum was completely broken when he was checked hard because Verrazano stopped in front of him. He was stride for stride with Orb at the very moment it happened. I don't think he would have won, but a top 3 finish seemed not only possible, but likely. And if you believe my assesssment, then WTC is the only horse that really has a shot at turning the tables on Orb today. I'm covering him, but I do expect Orb to win.
CM CM More than 1 year ago
And again andy beyer please retire you know nothing about horse ratings you have been wrong every derby in the last few years.
CM CM More than 1 year ago
Orb seems like he might just get there at Belmont but he has to watch revolutionary good lick shug
3 Cats More than 1 year ago
wow, everybody is on the Orb bandwagon now. What are they going to say if the unimaginable, the unbelievable and the absolute unthinkable happens and he loses today?
CM CM More than 1 year ago
Orb has to break a leg to loose and I really hope he comes ot of the race healthy honestly.
Douglas More than 1 year ago
I really believe in the back of everyones mind : people have thought about WHAT - IF ............ Like in 2007 STREET at ( 1 - 1 ) beat by Curlin : 2000 FUSAICHI at ( 7 . 5 ) beat by Red Bullet : 1991 STRIKE at ( 1 - 1 ) beat by Hansel : 1990 UNBRIDLED at ( 7 . 5 ) beat by Summer Squal : 1989 EASY GOER at ( 6 . 5 ) beat by Sunday Silence : 1988 WINNING at ( 1 - 1 ) beat by Risen Star ...................... So you see : Can Not Be Totally Sold On What Looks The Best ! I do believe though : this year is so much like the year of 2000 ! There was a huge - overwhelming Clear-Cut Solid Favorite : in the same size of field : ORB in my opinion reminds me so much of EASY GOER ! A L O T : I am hoping that all goes well for SHUG : Best To All
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
Orb came from off the pace to win in Kentucky To win from the 1 post he may need to be lucky The Derby winner is still not at his peak But he is on a five-race winning streak The Preakness will show just how much he’s plucky
Scott More than 1 year ago
Wesley, posts make very little difference in the Preakness and when you consider that the 2 and 3 horses want to shoot out to the front of the pack, Orb should have a nice clean rail run. He's already shown he can circle the Derby field, so circling 8 other opponents in the Preakness shouldn't be too much of a challenge.
Richard Tihamam More than 1 year ago
With all due respect, Steven Crist's Derby Pick was Overanalyze, prove that wasn't the way to analyze a racehorse.
Alex Sterioff More than 1 year ago
This guy and other hadicappers make chalk so heavy. They only look at a horses last race. Its unbelievable. If people want to make money at the track they need to stop reading these articles
Scott More than 1 year ago
Alex, Steven actually talked (albeit briefly) about Orb's 5 race winning streak. He spoke to the FACT that Orb has improved in each of those races too. Yeah, I would love to see a higher price, but the cat is out of the perverbial bag: Orb IS the best of his class and will likely again prove it today.
Michael Pierre More than 1 year ago
Since it is a long run to the 1st turn ORB has sufficient time to sort himself out coming out of the 1st turn. Along the back straightaway he'll be in a position where he'll be comfortable. Coming to the 2nd turn his move is going to be very critical. It must be a well timed move. Where before they turn for home, he must put himself no more than a length or length and a half off of the leader. He'll be wide and it's there he'll make his presence felt. By midstretch he should be clear on his way to a well deserve win. The rest will be vying for the place spots.