Titletown Five, one of three Preakness entries trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, and Orb were both entered in a seven-furlong, maiden special weight race for 2-year-olds at Saratoga last Aug. 18. Maiden special weights are for horses that have never won a race in their career.
The race at Saratoga was the first for Orb and third for Titletown Five, who is also part owned by Lukas along with former NFL great Paul Hornung, hence the colt’s name. Willie Davis, a former teammate and, like Hornung, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, is also a partner.
At Saratoga, Titletown Five finished about a length in front of Orb; however, neither won the race, as Orb was third and Titletown Five was second to Violence, beaten in the last few jumps, according to the official chart of the race.
It would be another two unsuccessful tries for Orb before he won the first race of his career at Aqueduct in New York in November in his fourth start. He’s since won five other races without losing, including the Derby. Titletown Five needed two races to win his first, which occurred at Churchill Downs in October.
At Pimlico this week, both Lukas and Shug McGaughey, Orb’s trainer, said they remember the Saratoga race.
McGaughey said Tuesday he was actually pretty happy with Orb’s performance, considering “he must have hit the gate two or three times” coming out at the start of the race. The comment line for Orb on the race chart says “off very slow.” Halfway through the race, Orb was dead last in the field of eight, 14 lengths behind the leader.
Titletown Five, meanwhile, flashed speed from the start. He broke from the gate second and took over the lead within the first quarter of the race. He was still leading when Violence caught him to win by a neck. The chart comment says Titletown Five “drifted out” and was “bumped at the wire.”
“If it had been six furlongs, I think [Titletown Five] would have won," Lukas said Wednesday, also noting “Orb was coming.” Orb made up considerable ground in the stretch, finishing a length and a quarter behind the winner.
Neither trainer said they had visions of Triple Crown glory for either colt following the race at Saratoga.
At Gulfstream Park in Florida in February, Orb nipped an undefeated and favored Violence in the Fountain of Youth to win his first stakes race. The victory put Orb on the path to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, while it dropped Violence out of the hunt.
Titletown Five was briefly on the Derby trail, but after he finished ninth in the Louisiana Derby in March – the same day Orb won the Florida Derby – Lukas decided to run him in the Derby Trial the week before the Derby, rather than the big race. He finished fourth.
Lucas said he respects Orb, but he also expects to get a good effort from Titletown Five on Saturday, win or lose.
He did offer one prediction: With Titletown Five in the race, the betting pool for the Preakness will get a boost from the money wagered by Hornung and his other partners, who have well-earned reputations as high rollers.