In the days leading up to Saturday's 138th running of the Preakness Stakes, favorite Orb's trainer, Shug McGaughey, said on a few occasions he felt his colt had yet to run his best race.
After the gate opened at Pimlico and sent off the nine Preakness starters, the Kentucky Derby champion appeared to be well positioned in the middle of the pack on the back stretch. But Orb, the 3-5 favorite, and seven of the others in the field had to watch the rear end of Oxbow for the entire one and three-sixteenths mile distance of the race.
After bursting from the gate first, Oxbow led all the way to capture a record setting 14th Triple Crown race victory for his trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won his first race in the series with Codex in the 1980 Preakness.
Oxbow, a 15-1 choice in the betting, ran the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:57.54, becoming the first Preakness winner to go gate to wire in front since Maryland owned Aloma's Ruler captured the race in 1982. Oxbow paid $32.80 to win on a $2 bet.
Itsmyluckyday finished second, followed by Mylute and then by Orb, who appeared to get blocked when he tried to move on the final turn and had to be taken back by rider Joel Rosario. The Kentucky Derby champ's belated move to the outside wasn't good enough to get him home as it had been in Louisville two weeks earlier.
"I'm disappointed, but I'll probably be more disappointed tomorrow," McGaughey told NBC television immediately after the race. He hadn't run a horse in the Preakness since Easy Goer lost by a nose to Sunday Silence in 1989, but he had come to Baltimore earlier in the week brimming with confidence in his horse.
The outcome proved to be a tough one for Orb's Maryland connections, including co-owner Stuart Janney III of Glyndon, who owns the horse in partnership with his cousin Ogden Mills Phipps and his family's Phipps Stables.
Also disappointed were members of the Pons family of Bel Air's Country Life Farm, who are part owners of Orb's father, Malibu Moon.
"We had our moment, that's all I can ask for," Country Life's Mike Pons texted from Pimlico following the race. "We did bag the big one [the Kentucky Derby]."
"There's no tears here; none at all. This was really a wonderful trip," Pons said later by phone. "The last two days here at [Pimlico] have been electric. We brought 80 people with us, and 20 of them hadn't ever been to a horse race. I haven't seen anything like this in Maryland racing since the late 80's or early 90's, so hopefully this is a renaissance."
"Shug McGaughey said before the race that when they were putting Orb's saddle on, he didn't quite feel like the same horse," Pons continued. "I didn't see that, but maybe the Kentucky Derby took more out of his tank than everyone thought. I still think [Orb] is the best three-year-old horse in the country, and if you'd run this same race five times, Orb would have won some of them. But, this has been magical experience, and it's just the start for Orb. He's got a lot of races left in him."
"I want to come back here again some day with another horse that has a shot at winning the Preakness," added Pons, who said prior to the race that interest in breeding to Malibu Moon has heightened since Orb's Derby win. Orb's mother, Lady Liberty, is currently carrying a second foal by Malibu Moon.
Orb's defeat in the Preakness dashed any hopes for a Triple Crown winner for the 35th consecutive year since Affirmed last won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in the same year – 1978.
Any disappointment on that score after Saturday's race, however, had to be tempered by what was accomplished by some very familiar names in the world of horse racing, as Oxbow's victory set all kinds of milestones.
It was the sixth Preakness win for the 77-year-old Lukas, who earlier in the week said he had not come to Baltimore spoil Orb's Triple Crown bid but expected all three of his Preakness entries to be competitive. "We don't show up to run for second money," he said, in noting his three-plus decades of May trips to Pimlico have often been profitable for him and his owners.
The sixth Preakness win for Lukas also broke a tie for second with Bob Baffert. The all-time record of seven wins was set by Marylander R.W. Walden in the 19th Century. Lukas' three starters Saturday also set an all-time record of 40 Preakness starters by one trainer.
In addition to his three Preakness starters – Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five, Lukas brought several other horses to Pimlico to compete in the rich program of stakes races offered on Friday and Saturday. In the Grade II Dixie Handicap, run just before the Preakness, the same team: Lukas, Stevens and owner Calumet Farm won on 25-1 long shot Skyring. The big Pimlico crowd should have been wary after the Dixie.
Oxbow's 50-year-old jockey Gary Stevens won his third Preakness, also finishing first on Silver Charm in 1997 and Point Given in 2001. Stevens, who came back from retirement this year after taking seven years off, became the oldest jockey to win the Preakness and now has nine Triple Crown victories, three each in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Following the race, Lukas said he was most happy for his hall of fame jockey and Oxbow's owner, Calumet Farm. "This shows they're back," he said.
The Oxbow win also was the eighth for the historic Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky., although the first for the farm's current owner, Brad Kelley, who acquired the farm last year. Calumet's previous seven wins, which were already a record, came between 1941 and 1968, when the farm was owned by the Wright-Markey family.
Departing, Harford County's other connection to Saturday's Preakness, finished a disappointing sixth after being sent off as a third choice. Departing's trainer Al Stall Jr. is married to the former Nicole Schaub, who grew up in the county and graduated from The John Carroll School in Bel Air. She and their two children had accompanied Departing and Al Stall to the saddling paddock prior to the race.
For Lukas, "the coach" as he likes to be called, Saturday's win gave him one more in the Triple Crown series than the legendary "Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons," who trained from the 1920s to late 1950s, including the Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and his son Omaha.
Lukas, who said Wednesday he does not expect to retire from training any time soon, may yet have a few more classic wins left under his trademark white cowboy hat. He showed Saturday it's never a good idea to overlook his horses in big races like the Preakness.han the legendary "Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons," who trained from the 1920s to late 1950s, including the Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and his son Omaha.
Lukas, who said Wednesday he does not expect to retire from training any time soon, may yet have a few more classic wins left under his trademark white cowboy hat. He showed Saturday it's never a good idea to overlook his horses in big races like the Preakness.