Orb's path to the finish line in the second leg of the Triple Crown remains uncrowded.
Normandy Invasion, the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, dropped from contention for Saturday's 138th running of the Preakness on Sunday.
Trainer Chad Brown and owner Rick Porter decided to stick with their original plan and point the horse toward prestigous races for 3-year-olds later in the summer.
That leaves Orb, the colt co-owned by Baltimore County resident Stuart Janney III and Ogden Mills "Dinny" Pipps' stable, with only seven confirmed challengers at this point. Up to 14 horses can enter the race.
"We're not really too concerned about the field," Janney said last week. "Biggest thing is getting our horse ready and having him run his race. The rest, we can't control."
But they can influence it.
When I'll Have Another won last year's Derby, the runner-up (Bodemeister), fourth-place finisher (Went the Day Well) and fifth-place finisher (Creative Cause) all ran back two weeks later in Baltimore.
Doug O'Neill's colt was not even the morning line favorite in Baltimore; that went to Bodemeister.
Orb, meanwhile, is going to be a heavy favorite.
Laffit Pincay III, son of hall of fame jockey Laffit Pincay and an analyst for HRTV, believes Orb is still growing into his full form.
"If he runs back his Derby, and I don't see any reason he shouldn't, his 'A' game easily handles anyone in this field," he said. "He's shown that he's a bit of a mid-pack closer, so it's going to help to have less traffic for sure. But he's shown that he can win a couple different ways and isn't bothered by how a race breaks."
Pincay also pointed out that Orb has won after only two weeks before. He broke his maiden Nov. 24 at Aqueduct, exactly two weeks after finishing fourth at the same track.
"At this point, it just doesn't seem like it bothers him," he said. "He's turned into this machine. And the field, it could have been much saltier for him. Departing is the one wild card."
Trainer Al Stall Jr., who conditions Departing, predicted the Malibu Moon colt will be "even money or less." Mike Watchmaker of the Daily Racing Form has him as the current 6-5 favorite; Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli is still mulling over his morning line.
Mylute, the fifth-place finisher and top contender out of this year's Derby, is an 8-1 selection, according to Watchmaker. So is Departing. His second choice, 6-1 Goldencents, faltered at Churchill Downs on the muddy track. Having trained all week in Baltimore — the only Preakness horse to do so — his connections believe he can return to form on the tight Pimlico track.
"The one thing we're starting to notice is he's getting better each day," said Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill. "He hasn't put a foot wrong since we got here. He seems to be really getting over the track well and striding out. We're very happy with him."
Two horses are still under consideration, including newcomer Govenor Charlie, trained by five-time Preakness winner Bob Baffert. The horse was pulled from Derby consideration the week of the race. He'll work Monday at Churchill Downs, and a decision on his status could come later in the day.
A decision on Vyjack, the 18th-place finisher in the Derby, may not be made until Wednesday, when entries are due. The gelding appeared agitated on the way to the gate in Kentucky, then ran a race kindly described as erratic.
His trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, has for the fourth time in 15 months had a horse test positve for flunixin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory also known as Banamine, according to reports out of New York, where he is a leading trainer. Rodriguez, a former jockey and assistant for Maryland native Rick Dutrow — the Big Brown trainer currently serving a 10-year suspension for repeated medicine violations — said he'd been informed of a positive test in a filly he ran April 21.
Rodriguez is already licensed to run in Maryland
With three positive tests on his resume at the time, Rodriguez was forced to take the unusual step of meeting with the Kentucky racing commission to plead for a license. He told the commissioners he believed he was the victim of sabotage on the third violation, and was granted a license.
Pimlico has for several years had strict monitoring procedures in place for Preakness horses. They stay in one of two barns that are heavily guarded by a private security company, and this year all visitors are required to sign in before entering those barns.
Janney has been an advocate for stricter medication rules, and believes the sport is moving in the right direction. Maryland is one of eight states that signed on to a uniform drug policy that reduces the total number of allowable medications to 24 and prevents any but Lasix, the anti-bleeder drug, on race day.
"Right now it seems like we're going the right way," he said. "Now, it's just a question of whether we get there quickly or we trip and fall a couple of times. It's clear where we need to go for the sake of the sport, but it hasn't been easy to get there."
Notes: Orb is scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon at Pimlico. Three contenders trained by D. Wayne Lukas — Oxbow (sixth at the Derby), Will Take Charge (eighth) and Titletown Five (newcomer) — are scheduled to leave Lousiville at 3 a.m. Tuesday, while Itsmyluckyday, currently training in New Jersey, is also expected that day. … Sagamore Farm's Millionreasonswhy is a 5-1 third choice for Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, behind Bill Mott's Emollient (9-5) and Baffert's Fiftyshadesofhay (2-1). Heat Press, the top 3-year-old colt for the operation owned by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, is nominated for the James Murphy Stakes on the Preakness undercard. ... Horses not currently listed as possibilities for the Preakness could enter the field if Govenor Charlie and Vyjack opt to stay out.