The “could this be the one?” questions came quickly after the Shug McGaughey-trained Orb claimed victory Saturday. In the post-race press conference, the Hall of Fame trainer was asked about how the horse set up for the next two American classic races and he exclaimed “to tell you the truth, I can’t wait.” Another connection in the Orb camp (which includes Baltimore County owner Stuart Janney III) told me in the immediacy after the race “this could be the one”, noting the quicker turnaround and shorter race distance between Churchill Downs and Pimlico. McGaughey added Sunday “we are tickled to death with the way he ran yesterday and he seemed to come out of the race well.” He went on to say “I am looking forward to getting there. We had a great two weeks down here and I am sure our time at Pimlico will be every bit as good. We are planning on bringing him Tuesday of Preakness week.”
The same connection seemed quite confident about Orb’s chances in the Belmont, noting “this horse was born to run a mile and a half.”
(As a side note, Janney however maintained his composed nature after the race, telling me he has many memories of attending the Preakness when he was younger. I couldn’t get him to crack any sort of emotion about coming back with a chance to pursue a Triple Crown. He’s quite the cool character. I guess that’s what makes someone successful in wealth management.)
It would be logical to suggest that a strong closing horse would be better suited for the longer race in New York than the mile and 3/16 in Baltimore, where jockey Joel Rosario has never ridden. Rosario will have to be willing to make a move quicker in the Preakness to make sure the horse doesn’t end up running out of time.
Veteran Churchill Downs VP John Asher told me Sunday “I sincerely believe this horse is the strongest Triple Crown hope since Point Given, who-of course-ended all suspense when he lost the Derby.” Considered one of the greatest race horses of all time, Point Given won both the Preakness and Belmont (running the fourth fastest time in Belmont history) after finishing out of the money in Louisville-the only time in his career he finished outside of the top three in a race.
The talk will be real between now and May 18th, which is very good for us in Baltimore even if the stars won’t show up until May 14th. The buzz alone is helpful. Orb is a legitimate contender. There will be a significant field willing to meet him for the challenge; including the aforementioned Goldencents, the Rosie Napravnik-saddled Mylute, D. Wayne Lukas trained Oxbow and Will Take Charge and Eddie Plesa Jr. trained Itsmyluckyday who all rain in the Derby and are considered likely to run again in Baltimore. New shooters like Departing, Governor Charlie, Fear The Kitten and Bellarmine are expected to join the field as well.
But Orb will be the star along with McGaughey, Rosario, co-owner Ogden “Dinny” Phipps and Janney-who will most likely accept the attention begrudgingly. The Triple Crown won’t come easily, but it won’t be impossible either.
I’d say “don’t get your hopes up”, but just maybe this horse is worth the emotion.
And hell, you’re going to get your hopes up anyway.