BALTIMORE – Everything’s a go for Orb.
The Kentucky Derby winner was in a playful mood Friday, the day before the Preakness, making faces for photographers between nibbles of grass at Pimlico Race Course.
“He seems to be energetic about what he’s doing so I couldn’t be more pleased,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “We’re excited about giving him a whirl to see if we can get it done and go on to the next step.”
Getting it done would mean defeating eight rivals in the 13/16-mile Preakness to set up a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes three weeks from Saturday. Orb is the even-money favorite, and there’s a growing feeling that this 3-year-old bay colt may be special enough to give thoroughbred racing its first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.
Orb extended his winning streak to five with a thrilling victory in the Derby two weeks ago, when jockey Joel Rosario patiently guided the colt from 17th to first in the final half-mile over a sloppy track.
In the Preakness, Orb will break from the No. 1 post, a spot last won by Tabasco Cat in 1994.
“He’s a horse that comes from behind, so I really don’t think it will affect him,” Rosario said of the inside post. “I’m just excited to go into this with a horse who has a chance to win.”
A chance? Most trainers agree Orb is the best of the bunch.
“Orb, he’s a freak. Right now, everybody should be rooting for Orb, except for the connections of the other horses in the race,” trainer Bob Baffert said — and he’s got a horse in the race, 12-1 choice Govenor Charlie.
Baffert has been there before. Three of his five Preakness winners had also won the Derby, but were unable to complete the Triple Crown at Belmont. He says the Preakness is the least stressful of the three races.
“There is absolutely no pressure, believe it or not because you’ve just won the Derby,” he said. “The next one (the Belmont) is the pressure.”
Six of the past eight Derby winners did not win the Preakness.
“Freaky things can happen,” McGaughey said. “You hope he doesn’t get in any trouble, you hope he handles the track, you hope he handles the kickback of the dirt, you hope he handles the day. If he does all that, I would have to think it will take a pretty darn good horse to beat him.”
Maybe it’s Goldencents, who finished 17th at Churchill Downs after winning the Santa Anita Derby in April.
“Orb’s not like a one-race hit. All year long he’s been super impressive,” said Goldencents trainer Doug O’Neill, who won the Derby and Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another, only to scratch the colt the day before the Belmont because of a tendon injury. “But we’ve seen Goldencents do some brilliant things in the afternoon. If he does, I think he can beat him.”
Maybe it’s Itsmyluckyday, another top 3-year-old who finished 15th in the Derby.
Or maybe it’s Departing, who comes into the Preakness off a win in the Illinois Derby.
And, of course, there’s D. Wayne Lukas, who has three of the nine entries in Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five, a colt owned by Green Bay Packer greats Paul Hornung and Willie Davis. .
Oxbow was sixth and Will Take Charge eighth in the Derby, while Titletown Five is a maiden winner who ran fourth in the Derby Trial.