Orb’s Kryptonite

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There are two kinds of weakness, that which breaks and that which bends

James Russell Lowell

We all have our weakness; even super heroes in comic books. Superman would get weak in the presence of Kryptonite, Manhunter’s weakness was fire, and Wonder Woman rendered helpless by tying her bracelets together, but only if her bracelets were tied together by a man.

Like super heroes, horses have weaknesses of their own. Some are challenged by the conditions of a track – was it too fast, too deep, or too sloppy? A soft or fast pace can either result in a victorious win, or the agony of a defeat. In the Preakness Stakes Orb’s abilities were hindered by what appeared to be his greatest weakness.

Breaking from post-position 1 may be the kiss of death for any horse. Most trainer or owners cringe after finding out their horse drew post-position 1. The value of statistics and information gathered while handicapping can leave you questioning your choice of winners. In the back of your mind, you are wondering how powerful is this information in picking a winner? In my previous blog, ITS BEEN 19 YEARS my research found that the last winner out of post position 1 for the Preakness Stakes was Tabasco Cat in 1994. That’s a lot of years since that post produced a winner; prior to 1994 go back to Aching Bally in 1960. Not to mention that post-position 6 has produced the most winners; adding this year’s Preakness winner Oxbow to the list.

Orb had a couple of things obviously against him even before the start of the race:

1.   Post Postion #1 – The kiss of death

2.   As the day wore on at Pimlico, the track started to work well with closers “down the middle” and the inside was probably the worse part of the track

But the biggest and I’m going to say biggest factor against Orb and any closer in the race was the PACE. The pace was too slow for any horse to catch a fast horse in the lead. Closers had really no chance at all. Oxbow had run one “full second” slower than the slowest Preakness in the 19 years preceding with fractions of:

¼ mile                        ½ mile                         ¾ mile                        1 mile

23 4/5                            48 3/5                           1:13 1/5                         1:38

(Courtesy of Super Screener)

I love the theory of, “Pace Makes the Race” as this race was clearly not set up for a closer. As quoted by Super Screener, “Gary Stevens, aboard Oxbow, had stolen the race, or it had been given to him when other speed horses did not push him. If a fast horse in the front is not going fast enough to be tired, then they are not going to stop.”

I couldn’t have said that any better.

Other things I’d like to mention after watching Orb’s last 7 races which I’m sure as a race fan you already know:

1.  Although Orb was already victorious out of post-position 1 in the Fountain of Youth he was also ridden by another jockey at this time, JR Velazquez who also rode Orb to Victory in his 2 previous wins prior to the Kentucky Derby. Joel Rosorio picked up the mount of Orb when JR Velazquez chose to stay aboard Kentucky Derby contender Verrazano.  A Different race, with a different driver.

2. Like a Fashion Model that develops a signature walk, Orb developed his own signature running-style. In all of Orb’s races (except for the Preakness Stakes) he had the exact tendency as a cruiser-closer style to run out wide on the track. In the Kentucky Derby, Orb was out of post-position 16 so he already at an outside post. When he made his move in the race–  he went out 6 wide into full-throttle to the finish line with tag line strapped to his saddle: Catch me if you can. In the Florida Derby, he was 4 wide as he flew past Itsmyluckyday to the finish line, and in the Fountain of Youth he was also 4 wide as he triumphed past Violence for the win. Prior to these big races back in January, Orb had the exact running style going wide. If you went back even further and watched Orb’s races as a 2 year old (I went back 3 more races to November of 2012) you would see that even at two, he still had the same tendencies to go wide. The one thing that stood out to me in watching his past races was that when Orb would make his move for a clear run to the finish line, he NEVER had horses to the right of him. He is not the type of horse that you would find weaving himself through traffic. Instead, Orb’s signature run is to go wide, claim his presence – with those to his left, and switch to full throttle gear.

At the break it looked like the path alongside the rail opened up, but instead of full steam ahead Joel Rosorio decided to hold back. The choice to take him back, but keeping him on the inside and not being able to get out, sealed his fate and with the slow pace, there was no real chance. If there was any chance whatsoever, Orb needed to go wide.  At the ¾ pole to the 1/8 pole, Orb and Joel Rosorio started putting pieces together as he made up 9 lengths and was finally able to split horses to catch, and pass Departing and Goldencents, by then — it was too late, and Orb was able to rally for 4th.

Bloodhorse has a great visual sequence of where each horse was positioned throughout the race

With Titletown Five and Goldencents in the race, I was not the only one who anticipated a faster pace, but with the slowest Preakness fractions Orb’s chances were compromised. Then add all the other factors that I shared; end result was exactly how the race unfolded. Orb was never in a position to shift gears. His energy was off; ears pinned back, and at one point looked like he had no gas in his tank. Orb clearly exposed his weakness like Superman with Kyptonite and there was no running off with the second jewel to the Triple Crown. Kudos to Gary Stevens and Oxbow!

So our hopes once again are shattered; as there will be no Triple Crown winner on the line. With 16 days to go until the Belmont Stakes (June 8th); this will be the toughest race in the Triple Crown trail.  This is the race that will unveil the horse that possesses not only speed, but also stamina. It’s been called the, “Test of the Champion”, and the first time many of these horses will run a 1 ½ . There is no rest for the weary as new shooters will come into the race. They will be fresh with a full tank of gas and ready to face some of the toughest 3 year olds around. The horses that started this journey with the Kentucky Derby, then to run two weeks later in the Preakness will have to dig deep as they will be tested. Will there be a horse that will persevere and handle the back to back races, or will a new shooter declare victory?

Wide, wide turns at the “Big Sandy” and that last turn for home will be killer!  It’s the longest stretch to the finish line that many horses will ever encounter, and TIMING will be the key.

Lets  hope Shug McGaughey will decide to run Orb in the Belmont Stakes. It will be a full field, and he’ll be back at his home track.  Orb will have an opportunity to show us that he is still the best 3-year old out there, and the last time a Kentucky Derby winner won the Belmont Stakes was Thunder Gulch in 1995. 18 years and counting, LETS GIT ER DONE!

Best of luck to everyone!

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