One of the aspects of horse racing that makes it such a wonderful sport is the fact that the major participants don't speak, they just run. The relatively silent nature of the horses also makes it impossible to know exactly why they perform the way they do on certain occasions. On Saturday's Preakness, despite all indications in the two weeks following his Derby triumph, Orb just didn't run at his best.
Orb's trained Shug McGaughey didn't have answers following the Derby winner's fourth place finish in the Preakness. Perhaps the track was a little deep. Perhaps it was the tactics from Gary Stevens and Oxbow. Ultimately, all he could really say was that it just wasn't Orb's day. Speaking to the Daily Racing Form following the race, McGaughy expressed his disappointment:
"I thought it would be quicker than that," McGaughey said of the pace. "I thought they might speed it up a little bit, but they didn’t. When they went 48-and-some-change, I still thought we’d close into it. It just wasn’t his day."
Pimlico Race Course doesn't utilize the Trakus technology found at Churchill Downs, so we don't have an abundance of data on the individual trip of each horse in the race. Fortunately for us, this Preakness is relatively easy to break down: Oxbow walked around the track.
The fractions and internal splits from the Preakenss are worth 1,000 words as to why Oxbow ran this field off its feet. After breaking well from the gate and throwing down a good first quarter mile in 23.94, Stevens guided Oxbow through consistently mild splits of 24.66, 24.66 and 24.88 over the next six furlongs. By the time Oxbow entered the top of the Pimlico home stretch there was very little the rest of the field could do to try and catch the winner.
Looking strictly at the other dirt route races (races at a mile or greater) on the Preakness card, the pace set by Oxbow was actually one of the fastest of the day when racing around two turns. The first race on the card, an Optional Claiming/Allowance event, saw a half-mile split of 46.78 and three-quarter mile fractions of 1:12.05, both of which were faster than Oxbow's early pace. All the other three two-turn dirt races on the Pimlico card had a slower pace than Preakness:
|Race||1/2 Mile||3/4 Mile||1/2 Internal||3/4 Internal||Dist.||Condition
Of those five route races on the dirt, Oxbow was the only horse to win in gate-to-wire fashion despite a slower pace in three of the other races (all of which were a furlong shorter than the Preakness). And while Gary Stevens deserves a lot of the credit for settling Oxbow into a fantastic rhythm during the early stages of the Preakness, at the end of the day the horse has to get it done.
Speaking of Gary Stevens, he rode two winners on the Preakness card and each won in gate-to-wire fashion. In the race immediately preceding the Preakness, Stevens guided 24/1 longshot Skyring to victory in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes on the Pimlico turf course. Had you bet an all-Stevens double in the Dixie and the Preakness, your $2 ticket would have returned $557.40.
According to an analysis performed by the Daily Racing Form, betting on the entire Preakness card was strong with a 2 percent gain in handle when compared with last year's card. Wagering on just the Prekaness itself fell 3.2 percent, with some of that decline probably due to the smaller field size (13 horses in 2012 vs. nine in 2013) and what appeared to be a legitimate short-priced favorite in Orb.
With the Preakness in the books the attention of the American racing world turns to Belmont Park in New York for the Belmont Stakes. The Belmont, run at a mile and a half, is scheduled for Saturday, June 8.