The final pieces are in place for Kentucky Derby winner Orb to take the second step toward winning the Triple Crown.
Should the imposing colt win Saturday’s $1 million, Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, only the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes three weeks later would stand in the way of a feat last achieved in 1978. Orb is the even-money favorite on the Pimlico morning line but likely to be a shorter price when the gates spring open.
Orb is a Malibu Moon colt who has been patiently but confidently managed by old-hand trainer Shug McGaughey. He was bred and is owned by Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable — some of the bluest of blue blood in the American branch of the “Sport of Kings.”
The colt’s bloodlines reflect generations of careful planning for improvement of the breed. A victory in the Peakness, with the potential for a Triple Crown champion, would be a popular reward for stewardship of racing’s stars.
The Kentucky Derby victory was the first ever for Janney, Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, the current master of the family’s historic stable, and for McGaughey, who has trained for both men and, as with Orb, for them jointly.
“I think we’d all say that we’re very glad we were together at the Kentucky Derby and lucky enough to win it with a horse that we happened to own together,” Janney said Thursday while visiting Orb’s barn. “I said after the race, ‘Shug was very clever to do that so that he didn’t have one owner that was ecstatic and another owner who was less than ecstatic.'”
Orb will start from the No. 1 gate at Pimlico on Saturday with eight rivals trying to deny him the second jewel in American racing’s Triple Crown, with the Belmont Stakes to follow in three weeks’ time. Should he prevail, Orb would be on the cusp of becoming only the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
Since that year, 12 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to fall short in the Belmont. The last two, Big Brown in 2008 and I’ll Have Another in 2012, had particularly poignant stories. Big Brown was pulled up early in the stretch run and I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the race with a career-ending injury.
The repeated disappointments have denied racing a Triple Crown hero to follow, although stars like the super mare Zenyatta have partially filled the void and rivalries like that between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer have provided exciting alternate story lines. Easy Goer denied Sunday Silence’s Triple Crown bid by beating him in the Belmont Stakes.
Orb’s rivals on Saturday include Mylute, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, Oxbow, who finished sixth in the Run for the Roses, Will Take Charge (8th), Itsmyluckyday (15th) and Goldencents (17th). Each of them had an excuse — or two — in the Derby and could run much better against a smaller field. The weatherman is calling for sunny skies at Pimlico on Friday and no more than a few showers on Saturday so track condition is unlikely to be an issue.
“I think if he goes over and runs his race, I’m quietly confident that he’ll be tough to beat,” McGaughey said after giving Orb a light workout Thursday morning. “It’s just like I was at the Derby. I was quietly confident all week that he was going to run his race and if that was good enough, it would be good enough. I feel the same this time.”
– Robert Kieckhefer