A few low, indecipherable noises escaped from the table where Shug McGaughey, trainer of even-money Preakness favorite Orb, sat during the post-position draw Wednesday.
The horse had drawn the dreaded No. 1 gate, meaning eight horses will be closing him in as they race toward the shortest path to the first turn.
McGaughey, though, was not among those who thought this meant anything significant.
“Some people groaned,” he said. “I didn’t groan.”
McGaughey acknowledged a preference to start on the outside of the field — where both the jockey and horse can watch the field open up — but said he thought drawing the rail simply didn’t matter in a nine-horse field running over a mile and three-sixteenths.
“It’s a pretty straight start with only nine horses,” he said. “They wont be jockeying for position as much going into the first turn as they did in the [Kentucky] Derby. I think we’ll hold our position and see how the race plays out and take it from there.”
Orb remained the prohibitive favorite, as expected.
Mylute, starting in the No. 5 spot, is the second choice of Pimlico handicapper Frank Carulli at 5-1. Todd Quast, general manager of owner GoldMark Farm, felt his colt and jockey Rosie Napravnik would better be able to keep up with Orb coming form the outside. Mylute threatened to make a run in the Derby but finished fifth.
“This time, maybe we keep a little better eye on him with his being on the inside, and we’ll see what happens,” Quast said.
Departing was dubbed the top newcomer in the race as a 6-1 choice starting from the No. 4 post position.
“We’re fine,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “I don’t think it matters much on this race track.”
A Preakness starter hasn’t won from the No. 1 post since Tabasco Cat in 1994. Only one horse breaking from that gate since then has gone off as one of the top betting choices: Lion Heart was the second choice to 3-5 favorite Smarty Jones in 2004. The others were all at least 10-1.
At even money, a bettor who wagers $2 on Orb will receive $4 if he wins.
D. Wayne Lukas, who trained Tabasco Cat, dismissed any sort of deep analysis of the draw but said Orb will have to contend with traffic.
“I don’t know the horse that well," he said. "I’m sure you’ll have to ask Shug. He’ll have some thoughts on it. But it’s a small field with a good run to the turn. I don’t think it’s very significant at all, except maybe for Orb."
Jenn Patterson, the exercise rider for Orb, could not hide her disappointment and raised her hands to her head when the draw was announced. McGaughey said that reaction is left over from the Kentucky Derby, where being inside a 20-horse field can be insurmountable because of the traffic.
“It’s almost like if you draw it there you just go home,” he said.
Orb has started from the inside post-position in three races, including his first two. He had trouble getting out of the gate in both of those but won the Fountain of Youth — the Kentucky Derby prep race that nudged him toward the Triple Crown path — from the No. 1 hole.
The horses directly to the right of Orb — 8-1 choice Goldencents in No. 2 and 30-1 choice Titletown Five in No. 3 — are likely to break quickly and leave Orb jockey Joel Rosario some room. In the Derby, Orb held back in 17th place through a quarter of a mile before beginning a startling move that easily put him two and a half lengths ahead of second-place Golden Soul at the finish line.
Despite all testimony to the contrary, whether Orb can find the space to do the same in the Preakness — which is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby — will be debated on the stools of the Mt. Washington Tavern and elsewhere for the rest of the week.
“Really, nobody ever wants to be down inside,” said Jimmy Barns, assistant trainer for Bob Baffert, who entered 12-1 newcomer Govenor Charlie in the Preakness. “You always think, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ but it just adds a little more pressure because you need the trip. Orb is a good horse. Hopefully, he’ll overcome it.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Colleen Thomas contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun