Thursday, May 16, 2013

Preakness Preview: Sometimes There is Such a Thing as a Sure Thing

If you saw the Kentucky Derby, you watched it happen.  Orb made a huge move on the turn, passing the other runners like they were standing still, or, perhaps "dancing madly backwards," to make a reference to a little known but very good song by Captain Beyond.  By the head of the stretch, he was by all of them, and although he ran a bit awkwardly for just a short while, he straightened out nicely, striding out powerfully, and won easily.  Orb won like much the best horse, and that's because that's who he is--the best horse.  With the best trainer.  And the best rider. He is going to win the Preakness this Saturday and, three weeks later, he will win the Belmont to become the first triple crown winner since the great Affirmed bested the amazing Alydar in three straight battles for the ages in 1978.

Some of my readers may be thinking, "You are jinxing this horse!  How can you be so confident?  Predicting a triple crown before he even wins the Preakness!"  Perhaps these same readers are coming up with reasons to bet Departing (he's a fresh horse, coming off a nice victory in the Illinois Derby); or Mylute (solid, fast-closing performance in the Derby); or, if they are completely delusional, Goldencents (sorry, can't even make my mind get whacked out enough to come up with a hypothetical justificaton).  Horseplayers are a cynical, skeptical lot, always looking for reasons the favorite won't win, possibly, and there are good reasons to doubt the assertion that a horse will win the triple crown.  34 reasons in a row, in fact.

But here's the deal, folks.  I told one of my best friends, and fellow horse racing fan extraordinnaire, Erik Christensen, that Orb would win the Kentucky Derby before he won the Florida Derby.  That's a bit of confidence in a horse, and my confidence in Orb then certainly didn't jinx him in either the race at Gulfstream or that little race at Churchill.  He was the one wearing the roses in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, and he wasn't even breathing hard.

So if you can actually get 1-1 on Orb Saturday, I advise you to cash in your change collection, empty your wallet, sell your clothes--whatever is possible--to get the most bank on this brilliant horse you can.  Because he will win, and a different pace scenario which may emerge in this race won't make any difference because Rosario can place this horse wherever he needs to be, and in such a small field, it's quite unlikely he will encounter any trouble.  He ran much farther, since he was wide throughout the Derby, and still won going away.  The same thing will happen Saturday--Orb wins the Preakness fairly easily and gets job number two (on the way to job number three at his home track of Belmont) done in style.

But I doubt you are going to get that 1-1 morning line.  If anyone at Pimlico and betting nationwide can read a racing form, Orb will probably be 3-5.  So you may be looking for horses to play underneath in exactas, trifectas, or superfectas.  And some will of course want to put these horses on top with Orb in these wagers as well in case there is an upset.  There is only one horse I will play on top of Orb in any exacta, tri, or super--and that is Departing.  The fact that he has had some time, using the Illinois Derby as his prep race, is a factor that gives him a chance.  He's trained by the very savvy Al Stall, and the connections stick with his regular rider, B.J. Hernandez, which is a smart move.  The horse is on the improve, and though it's very unlikely he is improving more than Orb, he's the one horse who I believe has an outside chance to pull the upset.

Another Preakness entrant I like a little is Mylute.  Rosie Napravnik had him charging late in the Derby and a similar effort here puts him in the mix.  Mylute definitely should be used in exotics.  A Derby horse who ran well, but experienced lots of trouble, was Will Take Charge.  More gamblers will probably be playing one of the other D. Wayne Lukas trained entries, Oxbow.  But Oxbow was up there dueling with the brutal pace in the Derby and probably will bounce badly in the Preakness.  Will Take Charge likely improves in the Preakness after being stopped in his big closing run by a fading Verrazano, who bothered him considerably in the stretch. I also know that Larry, one to the most intelligent punters I know, likes Will Take Charge, and I respect Larry's thinking.

That's it--I only like three horses in this race--Departing, Mylute, and Will Take Charge--and I love one horse--Orb.

As to the rest, I suppose I should say something about them.  Goldencents.  Go ahead, California speed lovers, bet on him again after he was embarrassed in the Derby, eased, and beaten over 45 lengths by Orb.  The rest of us will gladly reap the rewards of your parimutuel madness. I already indicated why I think Oxbow will not run well. He doesn't want to run this long anyway, and he is likely to bounce.  Governor Charlie is the Baffert entry who I perhaps should respect more because of his works at Churchill, but a person should always remember that Baffert's 25000 claimers pretty much all work that fast too.  Winning the Sunland Derby doesn't quite match with winning the Florida and Kentucky Derby either.  Itsmyluckyday will get more play than he deserves again, because Mike Smith decides to ride.  I and several hundred thousand horse racing fans are still trying to figure out what Mike was doing taking Palace Malice out to the lead in the Derby, setting blistering fractions, so I'm not thinking that Itsmyluckyday is going to be any luckier on this day just because Mike Smith gets on his back.  Lukas has entered the sprinter, Titletown Five, which insures a good pace for Orb to run at, and who will be doing the moonwalk backwards like a fast-motion Michael Jackson for the last half mile.

That sums things up for the preview, but I want to share one last detail from what I watched this week.  Orb was out grazing at Pimlico, and he decided he wanted to eat some flowers hanging in a pot off a fence nearby where he was chomping grass.  His regular gallop girl, Jennifer Patterson, was the person who had taken him out for a graze, and she was laughing and tugging at Orb, who still managed to get a good chomp of those gardenias.  Why am I telling you this?  Here's why: brilliant trainers know that making a horse happy makes a horse improve.  It doesn't matter if that horse is a 2500 claimer or the best stakes horse in the world.  You do things like have the same gallop girl always ride and exercise the horse, because the horse loves that gallop girl.  You have the gallop girl take the horse out to graze, to have some fun with him.  You keep things normal and routine and calm and cool and pleasant.  In a thirty second clip on, I saw Shug McCaughey's subtle brilliance as a trainer in action.  There was Orb's regular gallop girl, petting him and laughing, while she grazed the best horse in the world.  There was Orb grabbing some flowers--hey, they gave me a ton of these pretty smelling things after the Derby, and I sort of liked them!  There was the winner of the Preakness, and next up, the Belmont and the coveted triple crown, the one and only Orb.

Fred Robertson


  1. Obviously, as the daughter and sister and niece of trainers, I appreciate your last paragraph the most. I wrote about something similar once, something I remember Mac Robertson stating, that the best trainers treat all their horses the same - from the $5000 claimers to their graded stake winners. They all get their grazing time, access to the best grooms, etc. I still just love the simplicity in Shug's answers to everything. He's so dang genuine, you have root for him.

    Switching it up, I must be doubtful, however, about the Triple Crown. I was born in 1978, the last year it crowned a champion. And while I always HOPE to see it happen (and I would love to see it happen particularly to these connections - what a great boost it could give the industry), I truly think these horses aren't bred, built or trained anymore to sustain such a feat. Maybe I am reverting back to my old habit of playing the downer so that I'm not as disappointed when it doesn't come true? A Robertson-inherited trait, perhaps?

  2. Kati,
    I am seeing this trait from lots of horse racing fans, but I don't give a damn. Orb is going to win the triple crown.

  3. I need to make a correction. Mike Smith is not riding Itsmyluckyday. It's John Velasquez on Itsmyluckyday. It was not John Velasquez's lucky day when he had to ride Verrazano instead of Orb because of being Pletcher's #1 on call jockey. And it isn't going to be his lucky day today either. Mike Smith is on Will Take Charge. Since I like that horse to run second, possibly, to Orb, I hope Smith rides a bit better in the Preakness than he did in the Derby on Palace Malice.

  4. Smith throws more spoilers than clunkers, so he could be dangerous.
    Don't count him out, mainly because Anna always picks Mike Smith's horses (she's still in love with Zenny).