Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send out a classic winner in Oxbow against another classic winner in Orb in this year's $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 8 at Belmont Park.
Lukas will saddle the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner in Saturday's 1 1/2-mile test of 3-year-olds against the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner, who is trained by Shug McGaughey. This year's showdown is particularly enticing as both horses are conditioned by Hall of Fame trainers, and they are owned by racing titans Calumet Farm (Oxbow) and Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III (Orb).
It's not the first time Lukas has been in this position.
On two previous occasions, Lukas has sent out a classic winner against another classic winner in the Belmont. In 1988 Lukas saddled Winning Colors to a sixth-place Belmont finish in a race won by Preakness winner Risen Star. But in 1994, Lukas saddled Preakness winner Tabasco Cat for a two-length victory in the Belmont over Derby winner Go For Gin, who finished second.
This year will be the ninth time in 30 years that the Derby and Preakness winners have faced off in the Belmont. In the previous eight most recent showdowns, the only Derby winners to finish ahead of Preakness winners are Swale, who won the 1984 Belmont where Preakness winner Gate Dancer placed sixth; and Sea Hero, who finished seventh in a race marred by the breakdown of Preakness winner Prairie Bayou. Colonial Affair earned the win.
While the Preakness winners have had the measure of Derby winners in recent Belmont showdowns, Lukas said he agrees that Orb should be the morning-line favorite.
"Orb is a legitimate favorite. He's the Derby winner and now he will be starting on his home course," Lukas said.
McGaughey is enjoying the Belmont showdown but makes it clear he wants to finish on top Saturday.
"You get a guy like Wayne, he makes it fun," said McGaughey. "He's complimentary as well as competitive. I'm the same way; I'm competitive, I want to beat him. Wayne's a remarkable guy. To still be at the top of the profession as long as he's been there, all the changes he's brought to the Thoroughbred industry...he's got a real admirer in me."
Good news for connections and fans of Orb and Oxbow is that recent history suggests that in Belmont years where the Derby and Preakness winners meet, one of them typically earns a trip to the winner's circle. In the previous eight years that the Belmont has featured two classic winners, one of those Triple Crown race victors has emerged with the Belmont trophy six times. Derby winner Swale and Preakness winners Risen Star (1988), Hansel (1991), Tabasco Cat, Point Given (2001), and Afleet Alex (2005) all edged their classic-winning rivals and won the Belmont.
However, in the most recent previous showdown of classic victors, Preakness winner Shackleford finished fifth and Derby winner Animal Kingdom sixth in the 2011 Belmont. Ruler On Ice won the race at odds of nearly 25-1.
Lukas will be going for his fifth Belmont victory after previous wins with Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch (1995), Editor's Note (1996), and Commendable (2000). McGaughey will try for a second Belmont win after taking the race in 1989 with Easy Goer.