After Orb scored his decisive victory in the Kentucky Derby and was hailed as a bright new star of racing, many handicappers had a reason...

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After Orb scored his decisive victory in the Kentucky Derby and was hailed as a bright new star of racing, many handicappers had a reason for skepticism. They had seen this before.

The Kentucky Derby often unfolds in a way that gives an advantage to horses rallying from far behind. The winner comes to Pimlico in Baltimore amid acclaim, but the Preakness Stakes isn’t like the Derby and it doesn’t favor his style. Another Triple Crown bid is foiled, and skeptics are rewarded.

Saturday’s138th Preakness, however, does not appear to offer a profitable opportunity to wager against the Derby winner. The second-, third- and fourth-place finishers at Churchill Downs will not be at Pimlico because they are awaiting the Belmont Stakes or other objectives. Just eight horses will challenge Orb, and it is difficult to make a solid case for any of them.

The Derby was profoundly affected by longshot Palace Malice, who rocketed to the lead and set an extraordinarily fast pace over a sloppy track. The rivals who had chased him through a half-mile in 45.33 seconds all tired badly, allowing stretch-runners to dominate. Orb, Golden Soul, Revolutionary and Mylute were all 18 lengths or more behind the leader after a half-mile; they rallied to finish 1-2-3-5.

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Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday brought excellent credentials to Churchill Downs. But both were chasing Palace Malice in the early stages of the race. They also may have disliked the sloppy track — their trainers certainly think so.

Handicappers recognize that some horses dislike mud and that bad efforts can often be disregarded. Yet it is not common for a high-class to run as horribly as Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday because they don’t like a racing surface. Ten times since 1945, the Derby has been run on a track labeled sloppy, muddy or slow, and the form of the Derby held up remarkably well in the Preakness. Horses who were badly trounced never made a sudden turnaround to win on a fast track at Pimlico.

One colt who did run creditably in defeat at Churchill was Oxbow, but he has never indicated that he’s good enough to win at this level.

It is also hard to make a case that Mylute could turn the tables on Orb, or that new challengers Departing or Govenor Charlie could improve enough after winning lesser stakes races. I cannot bet any of these horses against Orb, and I would never take a short price on the favorite. But as a fan, I do have one rooting interest..

If Orb is going to win, I want to see him deliver a truly great effort. He could do so. His Derby victory was certainly no fluke, and he may continue to improve. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, takes his time developing horses. In 1989, his great colt Easy Goer improved sharply from the Derby to the Preakness (he lost by a nose) and then improved even more to win the Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths.

If Orb is on a similar trajectory, the sport may have plenty of excitement in the coming weeks.


• Fiftyshadesofhay won by a neck over Marathon Lady in the $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies at Pimlico. The winning time over 1-1/8 miles was 1:52.73.

Joel Rosario rode the winner for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and she paid $5.60 to win.