by John Furgele
The best day of the American sports calendar, the Kentucky Derby, ended with Orb coming away with a convincing victory in the 139th run for the roses. Orb, son of Malibu Moon, was, as they say, much the best over the slop at Churchill Downs. Orb will be the convincing favorite when the posts are drawn this Wednesday for the 138th runnning of the Preakness States at old Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
While the Kentucky Derby is the most famous race in our country, the Preakness Stakes is the most important. Many will dispute that, but the Preakness, because it’s the middle jewel, in essence, holds all the cards to lure in the American public. Orb is the only horse that can win the Triple Crown, a feat, that most know, has not been accomplished since Affirmed ran down Alyday in 1978. If Orb wins the Preakness, it’s on to Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes. The buildup will be there, the frenzy also. If Orb wins this Saturday, attendance for the Belmont Stakes likely gets over 100,000; if he doesn’t win, the crowd is likely to be 50,000 to 60,000.
The Derby is a great betting race. There are 20 starters and Orb was the favorite at 5-1, meaning a win pays at least $12.00. At the Preakness, Orb might be a 2-1, or something like 4-5, meaning a win might pay $6.00 or less. The Preakness field may reach the maximum of 14, with some new shooters and some returnees from the Derby. But, betting aside, the general public will be rooting for Orb to win to set the stage for the mighty Belmont.
Winning the Derby and the Preakness is not as hard as it might seem. It’s been done 12 times since 1978, but winning the finale at Big Sandy has been impossible—-thus far. Last year, I’ll Have Another won both, but because of a leg injury, never made it to the starting gate. Big Brown, aka Big Clown, made it in 2008, but faltered badly, and was eased up before the finish line. The most heartbreaking attempt was Smarty Jones in 2004. Smarty led most of the race, but was cut down by Birdstone in the final sixteenth of a mile. It’s a race where you watch on You Tube and still hope and believe Smarty Jones will win.
Orb certainly has the pedigree to win the Preakness and the Belmont. The son of Malibu Moon is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, owned by Janney and Phipps and lives and trains at Belmont Park, a tricky facility to say the least. When a longshot wins the Derby, it may be exciting, but those who follow the sport aren’t excited, because deep down, they know a 50 to 1 Mine That Bird probably isn’t good enough to win three major races in a five week span.
Orb could do it. He will be challenged. If he wins Saturday, he would go to the Belmont and his brother may be there waiting for him. Freedom Child romped to a 13 length victory in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont yesterday. Like his brother, he has the same father and appears to enjoy running in the slop. He won easily in 1:49 and change for 1 1/8 miles and looked like he could have run for another half mile or so. The “brotherly love” story could be a good one.
Orb has the pedigree but also has the pressure and the only chance to win the Triple Crown. But, he has to win the most important race, the table setter.