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Friday, May 17, 2013
It's all about Orb

By Amanda Duckworth
Special to ESPN.com

Racing is notorious for the fact no one ever agrees on anything. That said, this week at Pimlico there is no question that almost everyone is cheering for Orb in the Preakness.

That might seem like an obvious statement. Fans and industry types alike are longing for another Triple Crown winner. We have waited long enough for it. That said, few Kentucky Derby winners in recent memory have been as popular as Orb.

There is just so much to like about the colt. He is honest and classy, much like his Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Somehow, in the two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness, the notion that "No really, this one could finally be the one," has set in.

On paper, Orb should win for fun and the odds reflect that. In fact, even though he drew the less-than-ideal post position No.1, he was still installed as the even money morning line favorite.

Why not? Orb is undefeated in 2013. He has been the class of his crop, and it is up to another horse to take that away from him. He has proven that he can have a troubled trip and still win; he has won on fast and sloppy tracks; and he notched his first graded stakes victory, the Fountain of Youth, breaking from post position No 1. In short, things don't have to go perfectly for him to find his way to the wire first.

McGaughey We hope he doesn't get in trouble; we hope he handles the track; we hope he handles the kickback of dirt; we hope he handles the day.

-- Shug McGaughey, Orb's trainer
But can he do it again in the Preakness? Well, that's proven harder to do than not, and there are no guarantees in racing, not even for such a likeable colt.

"There are a lot of ways to lose, as we all know," said McGaughey. "Freaky things can happen. We hope he doesn't get in trouble; we hope he handles the track; we hope he handles the kickback of dirt; we hope he handles the day. If he does all that, I would have to think it's going to take a pretty darn good horse to beat him."

Orb, who races as a homebred for Stuart S. Janney III and the Phipps Stable, certainly looks the picture of health. On Friday, he went for a spin around the track around 6 a.m. to stretch his legs, then had a bath before settling in to graze for a bit. All the while, cameras followed his every move.

While some colts get worked up by the media frenzy, Orb has taken everything in stride. Really, the biggest difference between the Orb of Derby week and Orb two weeks later is the blanket he sports while grazing, which is embroidered with the word Maserati.

Yes, even the luxury car brand has gotten excited about the colt's potential. As a result of the sponsorship, Orb has raised funds for two charities, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation. Although details of the sponsorship were not revealed, Janney confirmed it was a meaningful contribution.

In short, in the days leading up to the Preakness, it is Orb … and everyone else. If the morning line odds hold any type of form, the betting on the second leg of the Triple Crown will reflect the same thing. The only reason to bet on Orb, really, is if you want a souvenir ticket or if you bet exotic wagers.

Of course, horse racing is a fickle game. In 2007, a popular colt by the name of Street Sense came to Pimlico looking to continue his winning ways from the Kentucky Derby. To this day, he is the only one to ever win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Derby. However, in the Preakness, he lost a heartbreaker of a photo finish to a horse named Curlin.

By the end of the season, Curlin would not only be named champion 3-year-old colt but Horse of the Year as well. As it happens, since 2000, only two winners of the Preakness have not been named champion 3-year-old: Red Bullet (2000) and Shackleford (2011).

While there are no obvious Curlins lurking in the wings this year, anything can happen. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert knows a thing or two about winning the Preakness; he has won the race five times from 13 starters since 1996. This year he brings Govenor Charlie, who he opted not to run in the Derby after the colt missed training due to a minor foot bruise.

Incidentally, one horse in the field has beaten Orb. Longshot Titletown Five, one of three horses entered by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, can count beating the Derby winner among his bragging rights.

"I'm a long shot and I should be a long shot," Baffert said. "I think we're all thinking about what kind of horse Orb is. Is he a super horse? He's a very good horse. When you win five in a row, you're a really good horse. Can [Govenor Charlie] beat Orb? We don't know. But I think he could run 1-2-3. I feel if I can run 1-2-3 then I have a chance."

Incidentally, one horse in the field has beaten Orb. Longshot Titletown Five, one of three horses entered by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, can count beating the Derby winner among his bragging rights. However, it was in Orb's very first race, which wasn't his best effort. As the chart reads, Orb "reared at the start and spotted the field several lengths by the time he got going." And while it is true Titletown Five did beat Orb by a length, they both lost to a horse named Violence.

"It was early in his career and he's [Orb] a late-developing horse, but we still beat him," said Lukas, who also will saddle Oxbow [sixth in the Derby] and Will Take Charge [eighth in the Derby]. "Orb's the best horse, let's face it. I only like to come here if I'm competitive. I think we are."

The word competitive sums up the eight horses lining up to take on Orb. Most, if not all, of them have a decent chance of running a good race. Is it good enough to beat Orb? Well, that is what everyone is waiting to see.

"We're excited about giving Orb a whirl tomorrow afternoon, and see if we can't get it done so we can go on to the next step," said McGaughey.

That sentiment is shared by much of the racing industry. I don't think a Triple Crown winner will help save racing, but it would be fun. After all, just having the potential leading up to the Belmont makes for a fun three weeks.

Emotion aside, on paper it is tough to pick against Orb, too. Or maybe, even though I have tried to fight it, I am joining the crowd who is drinking the Kool-Aid. Either way, assuming Orb runs to his usual standard of excellence, I just have a hard time imagining him losing.