A pair of not so over-the-hill Hall of Famers pulled off a huge upset in the Preakness and ended any hopes of a Triple Crown attempt at the Belmont Stakes.
Thanks to Oxbow’s wire-to-wire win Saturday over Kentucky Derby winner Orb, trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens have themselves another classic to add to their stellar résumés.
“I get paid to spoil dreams,” the 77-year-old Lukas said after his record 14th win in a Triple Crown race. “Unfortunately we go over here, and you can’t mail ’em in. It’s a different surface and a different time. You gotta line ’em up and win ’em.”
Stevens ended his retirement in January and won his third Preakness to go along with three victories in the Derby and three in the Belmont.
“At 50 years old, after seven years’ retirement, it doesn’t get any better than this,” Stevens said. “This is super, super sweet, and it happened for the right guy. All the stars were aligned. It’s even more special winning it for Wayne Lukas and his team.”
Lukas put Stevens on his first Triple Crown race winner when the rider guided the filly Winning Colors to victory in the 1988 Derby.
“He supported me,” Stevens said. “A lot of people were trying to get me off. He was the first guy to call me up and said ‘I’m going to have a colt for you. His name is Oxbow.’”
Orb was unable to find his rhythm after breaking slowly from the rail and never challenged in finishing fourth.
“After we passed the half-mile, he had a hard time keeping up, and I kind of worried a little bit,” Orb’s jockey Joel Rosario said. “He just kind of steadied after that. He usually takes you there. He always runs hard, but (Saturday) he never took off.”
Orb’s loss extends the Triple Crown drought to 36 years since Affirmed became the 11th horse to sweep the races in 1978. There had been great anticipation the sport would get another Triple try just a year after I’ll Have Another won the first two races but was scratched the day before the Belmont with a tendon injury.
But nothing could get past Oxbow.
Lukas won his sixth Preakness to move one behind Robert Wyndham Walden for most wins in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The victory was a long time coming for the dean of trainers. The last time he won a Triple Crown race was the 2000 Belmont with Commendable. And before that, he was a regular in the winner’s circle after classic races. At one point, he ran off six in a row – from the 1994 Preakness through the 1996 Derby. He also was the first to send out five horses in one Derby, and he won it with Grindstone in 1996.
The first trainer to gear his operation to Triple Crown races, Lukas took a run at the coveted prize in 1999 with Charismatic. The unsung 3-year-old won the Derby and Preakness but broke his leg in the stretch of the Belmont while finishing third.
Oxbow, sent off at odds of 15-1, took charge from the start out of the No. 6 post and beat Itsmyluckyday by 1-3/4 lengths. Mylute, with Rosie Napravnik bidding to become the first female to win the Preakness, was third, followed by Orb, Goldencents, Departing, Will Take Charge, Govenor Charlie and Titletown Five.
Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey, so confident in the two weeks leading up to the race, was gracious despite his disappointment.
“It was a great opportunity,” the Hall of Famer said. “We were 3-5, and we finished fourth. We’ll pack it up and go home. Hats off to Wayne.”
He also recalled a brief conversation with Lukas a few days before the race.
“Just two days ago, he said to me ‘We got another one on the agenda,’” McGaughey said. “And darn if two days later he didn’t get it ... When Wayne wasn’t going good, he was still the first guy out on his pony. The guy’s a credit to racing. He’s always upbeat and optimistic.”
Orb came into the Preakness with a five-race winning streak, and many expected him to win easily. But it wasn’t to be on an overcast windy day at Pimlico Race Course, where 117,203 fans turned out.
Oxbow went to the lead ahead of Goldencents and opened some daylight into the first turn. Orb, who broke slowly as expected from the No. 1 gate, wound up in a cluster of horses around the turn and into the backstretch. While Oxbow was cruising along in front, Rosario tried to find room outside but found his path blocked. Orb dropped back to the inside, and perhaps frustrated without any space to run free like he did in the Derby, fell back to seventh and never was a threat in the stretch.
“The pace was slower than I anticipated,” McGaughey said. “I thought maybe they would speed it up a little bit, but they didn’t. I thought we would close into it, but it just wasn’t his day. He was just never real comfortable once he got down in there.”
Lukas had three of the nine horses in the Preakness, and it was his best Derby finisher who was able to come through. Just like that, he broke the tie with “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons for most Triple Crown wins.