Trainer Al Stall Jr., whose Illinois Derby (gr. III) winner Departing is the most talked-about new shooter leading up to the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), voiced what everyone in racing knows about Orb , winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and about his Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
"Eight jocks will be looking toward that inside post, that's just how it is," he said while standing outside one of the stakes barns at Pimlico Race Course. "Shug has that target on his back...He wanted it, he's got it."
Galloping down the road to Baltimore, that Kentucky Derby victor and his affable conditioner are exuding an aura of confidence that could beget Triple Crown legend—"I think if Orb runs his race, they'll all have him to beat," McGaughey said—but as the Malibu Moon colt seeks his sixth win in a row for cousins Stuart Janney III and Ogden "Dinny" Phipps, questions remain.
How will Orb handle breaking from the one hole? He's done it before and won, including the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) which springboarded him to Florida Derby (gr. I) victory and a Run for the Roses score. But the last horse to win the Preakness from the inside post was Tabasco Cat in a 1994 field of 10, the lone winner from the rail in the past 52 runnings of the race.
Was the sloppy track on that First Saturday in May a hindrance to some who could have run better and will try again here? Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Goldencents, perhaps, or Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) victor Itsmyluckyday?
On that subject, Stall had the perspective shared by any trainer other than Shug McGaughey: "Obviously we respect Orb and love the connections and the story and everything, but we're just concerned with getting our horse to show up and run well."
A field of nine will go postward in the 138th running of the Preakness, which is scheduled as race 12 of 13 with an estimated post time of 6:20 p.m. EDT. The 1 3/16-mile event will be televised live on NBC with a 4:30-6:30 p.m. broadcast bookended by 2:30 p.m. pre-race and 6:30 p.m. post-race shows on NBC Sports Network. Forecasts for Baltimore call for a high temperature of 73 degrees, with 30% chance of precipitation.
Orb, who closed strongly to win the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths under Joel Rosario, is the even money favorite for the Preakness with Rosario once again aboard.
"I think there's more there, but he's got to tell us that," McGaughey said of his runner's potential. "What really surprises me is how he comes out of his races, not only mentally, but physically...he's sure come a long ways since the Florida Derby. I can't wait to run him on Saturday afternoon, and maybe we'll see something special."
Departing, who took the Illinois Derby with a strong 3 1/4-length score for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, is the third choice at 6-1 on the morning line and will be piloted by Brian Hernandez Jr. from post 4. Hernandez has ridden the son of War Front to four wins from five starts, their only loss a third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) when the gelding stepped up to graded company for the first time.
"We just didn't think he got enough out of the Louisiana Derby to make that step forward (to the Kentucky Derby), and he had to earn his way to the Preakness, so we got that done in Illinois," said Stall, who raced Departing on Lasix for the first time in the Illinois Derby. "He seemed like he was in a pretty good spot in the Louisiana Derby, but he just didn't go right on. I guess a lot of people would have most likely thrown him in the Derby, but he's a gelding and we just didn't want to tear him up. We just wanted to see one more race and kind of what we have.
"We still don't know exactly what we have, but we learned a lot more, that he did go forward, which is a good trait of a 3-year-old at this time of year, and we feel very comfortable being here. I think we're going to go run our 'A' race. Whether that's good enough or not, I don't know, but he acts like he's going to go fire."
Mylute is the 5-1 second choice for the Preakness, and he was ahead of Departing in the Louisiana Derby, where he missed by a neck for trainer Tom Amoss. The fifth-place Kentucky Derby finisher was closest of all five returning contenders to Orb when he was steadied early last time out but closed with a strong move six wide under Rosie Napravnik. Co-owner Paul Bulmahn of GoldMark Farm thinks the partnership between Maryland native Napravnik and his Midnight Lute colt bodes well for Preakness success.
"Put Rosie on his back, and I think we're there," Bulmahn said. "This is her track. She grew up here, and even though she hasn't ridden a lot here lately, I think it's going to be second nature to her. Orb is a good horse, and looks very good, and performs well, and has improved each race, too. And Departing continues to improve, but so does Mylute. He hasn't gone out and won a big grade I somewhere already, and yet he keeps developing and each race he keeps getting better and better and better."
Finishing sixth behind Mylute was Calumet Farm's Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) winner Oxbow , who came off a fifth in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) to make a speedy attempt at an inside bid before flattening going into the Kentucky Derby far turn. The Awesome Again runner, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, is expected to be part of a pace scenario that should develop with Goldencents and stablemate Titletown Five, as well as with Govenor Charlie. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will be in the irons from post 6.
Lukas, who has won the Preakness five times, has a trio of runners—the only trainer with multiple entrants in the 2013 edition—with Willis Horton's Will Take Charge coming off an eighth in the Derby and Titletown Five, a Tiznow colt Lukas co-owns with Paul Hornung, Edward Martin, Willie Davis, David Miller, and M. Shade, exiting a fourth in the April 27 Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
"He's playing catch-up," Lukas said of Titletown Five, who once finished second ahead of Orb, who was third, in an Aug. 18 maiden special weight at Saratoga Race Course. "He chipped a knee last year, but he has got a lot of talent. He beat Orb once. He's a longshot, and deservedly so, but he'll make some noise."
Will Take Charge, by Unbridled's Song, has been a talked-of Preakness entrant ever since his Derby run. The Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner was closing strongly with a five wide run but checked at the three-sixteenths pole when tiring Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Verrazano got in his way. He will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith from the 7 hole, while Titletown Five gets the services of Julien Leparoux from post 3.
Trainer Eddie Pleasa Jr. is calling the Derby a toss for Itsmyluckyday as well. The Lawyer Ron colt finished 15th in the classic after attempting a mild four wide run, but was never better than sixth throughout in the 19-horse field. Jockey John Velazquez gets the call from the far outside.
"You can just draw a line through that last race and forget about it," said Plesa, whose wife Laurie owns Itsmyluckyday in partnership with Trilogy Stable. "My horse is training excellent and we've got tactical speed, so John (Velazquez) can put him wherever he wants."
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who won the 2012 Preakness with Derby victor I'll Have Another , looks for Goldencents to rebound off a 17th-place finish at Churchill Downs on May 5. Kevin Krigger, who wrapped up on the Into Mischief colt when he dropped back in the later going, has the return mount from post 2. Goldencents is 8-1 on the morning line.
"It's tough because we know how competitive and how tough Goldencents is, but it's the first time he has ever been in that scenario where he was getting a lot of kickback," O'Neill said. "That wasn't one of your standard wet-fast kind of tracks, it was almost like peanut butter out there. We were definitely disappointed with our effort in the Kentucky Derby... but with a smaller field and good weather, I think we can turn the tables on Orb."
Rounding out the field is Govenor Charlie, who gives Hall of Fame horseman Bob Baffert a chance to return to Baltimore. Baffert is tied with Lukas for five Preakness wins, the most recent in 2010 with Lookin at Lucky for Michael Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, who own Baffert's 2013 contender as well.
Govenor Charlie, by Midnight Lute, won the Sunland Derby (gr. III) but skipped the Kentucky Derby with a foot issue that has since healed. He drew the 8 hole and will be ridden by Martin Garcia, who was aboard for the victory with Lookin at Lucky as well.
|$1,000,000 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), 3YOs, 1 3/16 miles (dirt)|
|1||Orb||Joel Rosario||Shug McGaughey||Even|
|2||Goldencents||Kevin Krigger||Doug O'Neill||8-1|
|3||Titletown Five||Julien Leparoux||D. Wayne Lukas||30-1|
|4||Departing||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Al Stall Jr.||6-1|
|5||Mylute||Rosie Napravnik||Tom Amoss||5-1|
|6||Oxbow||Gary Stevens||D. Wayne Lukas||15-1|
|7||Will Take Charge||Mike Smith||D. Wayne Lukas||12-1|
|8||Govenor Charlie||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||12-1|
|9||Itsmyluckyday||John Velazquez||Eddie Plesa Jr.||10-1|