Oxbow upsets Orb in Preakness

| August 18, 2013

138th Preakness StakesInstead of a Triple Crown, fans of thoroughbred racing had to settle for an old-timer’s game at the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes Saturday afternoon.

D. Wayne Lukas, one of the sport’s all-time great trainers, and jockey Gary Stevens, one of its best-ever jockeys, combined to stun 117,203 fans, the fourth largest crowd in the history of the race at Pimlico Race Course.

They were the human connections of a 3-year-old colt named Oxbow, who got to the lead early in the 1 3/16-mile race and never gave it up. Oxbow, who at 15-1 had the second longest odds in the nine-horse field, cruised to a 1¾-length win in the $1 million race.
Oh, the combined ages of Lukas and Stevens is 127.

The ageless Lukas, who still gets on horses in the morning, is 77. And he shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.

“It’s going to be a long night,” Lukas said.

But also a short one. Lukas said he planned on loading up Oxbow and the rest of his horses for the trip back to Churchill Downs at 4:30 Sunday morning. He was then going to climb in the front seat of the horse van and ride along for the 13-hour trip back to Kentucky.

“What a great story,” said rival trainer Bob Baffert, who was no factor in the Preakness when his Govenor Charlie finished eighth. “Wayne is never going to retire. We’ll find him in the shed row someday and we’ll think he’s sleeping.”

The Preakness win was the sixth for Lukas — the most by any trainer in history. It was also his 14th win in a Triple Crown race, also a record. Before Saturday, the last time he won a Classic race came in the 2000 Belmont with Commendable.

One record Lukas did not get Saturday was being the oldest trainer to ever win the Preakness. That is held by “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons, who was 82 when he won the race in 1957 with Bold Ruler.

As Lukas has aged, he appreciates how hard it is to win the big races. He won his first Preakness in 1980 with Codex.

“After the first one, I thought I was going to win quite a few more,” Lukas said. “I told my son (Jeff), `This is no big deal.’ We’ll win a bunch of these, and then I went (five) years before I got another one.”

Stevens might be a more amazing story than Lukas. He retired in 2005 because of knee injuries and embarked on a career as a race analyst on NBC and HRTV. He started his comeback in January, and here he sits, on top of the game.

As soon as Oxbow’s connections received their trophies in the Preakness winner’s circle on the infield, Stevens ran across the track and up to the NBC booth, where he did post-race analysis.

He is the oldest rider to ever win the Preakness, surpassing Eldon Nelson, who was 45 when he won the 1972 Preakness aboard Bee Bee Bee.

“I’m not going to lie to you, to win a Classic at 50 years old after seven years of retirement, it doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “This is super, super sweet. I couldn’t be more pleased winning this thing.”

Oxbow, coming off a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, got off to an easy lead, setting fractions of 23.94 seconds for the first quarter mile and 48.60 for the half.

After going six furlongs in 1:13.26, Oxbow and Stevens looked strong.

The only horse that was coming was Itsmyluckyday and jockey John Velazquez, who would finish second. Mylute and jockey Rosie Napravnik finished third and then it was 6¾ lengths back to Orb, the disappointment of the race.

The 3-5 favorite never got going and was never a factor. He had showed a solid closing in the Kentucky Derby, but did not get the pace to run at Saturday. It also didn’t help that he and jockey Joel Rosario seemed to be uncomfortable starting from the rail.

“The pace was slower than I anticipated,” Orb’s trainer Shug McGaughey said. “I thought it would be quicker. I still thought he would close into it, but it just wasn’t his day.”

Other trainers just could not believe what they saw or didn’t see from the top 3-year-old in the country.

“Orb didn’t show up, he is a better horse than that,” said Bob Baffert. “Horses like him don’t run like that. It was one of those days. He’ll be back.”

Oxbow, who has won three of 11 career starts, was timed in 1:57.54, well off the record of 1:53 set by Secretariat in 1973.

He paid $32.80 to win, the fifth highest payout in the race’s history.

Next up for the sport is the Belmont Stakes on June 8, but, with no Triple Crown on the line, the anticipation for the race will dwindle. Lukas doesn’t care. He expects he and Stevens and Oxbow will show up for that one, too.


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