8:00 AM EDT, May 18, 2013
BALTIMORE — Horse racing's Preakness is a place of history and a bubble of hope.
If you come here with a Kentucky Derby victory under your belt, as trainer Shug McGaughey and Orb have, you have little time to appreciate that history. You are lost in the Triple Crown bubble. Every question goes in the same direction: Can you win? How will you (a) feel, (b) react, (c) enjoy?
Orb's morning-line odds are even money. If you want to make money on him Saturday, you'll need to bet lots of it. This year, only Orb can hope for immortality. The eight others in the race can hope for the proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
Racing's Triple Crown is a big deal. Because it has been 35 years since the last one, Affirmed in 1978, it has become a huge deal. Orb looks like the real thing, but then, so did I'll Have Another last year, until an injury erased his shot the day before the Belmont.
Racing has made its Triple Crown a holy grail. The extreme difficulty in achieving it only adds to the lore. Since Affirmed, 12 have gone to the Belmont with the first two jewels in their saddles. Eight have finished in the money and one, I'll Have Another, never made it to the gate.
Since the Triple Crown was labeled as such by writer Bryan Field of the New York Times after Gallant Fox's Belmont victory in 1930, 33 horses have left Baltimore with a shot. Nine have achieved it. Fortunately, Gallant Fox's victory was before Twitter or we might never have had a Triple Crown. Field might have tweeted: "OMG. GalFox wins TrpCrw of HrsRcng."
Sir Barton was in 1919, before Gallant Fox, making a total of 11 Triple Crown winners. Sir Barton is also a good place to inject some Preakness history.
When he won his Preakness, he did so on a Wednesday afternoon, four days after he won the Kentucky Derby. He rode a van to Baltimore and won again. Any thoroughbred trainer imposing that on a horse now would be taken away in shackles.
The first Preakness was in 1873. Long before that, racing was powerful here. The Maryland Jockey Club, still wielding power, celebrated its 250th anniversary. In 1993.
The Preakness was hatched at a dinner party at Saratoga in 1868. The governor of Maryland, Oden Bowie, pushed for a $15,000 purse, undoubtedly dazzling even the rich men at the table. That's probably about $7 million in today's dollars, or ten at-bats for Josh Hamilton.
A course was laid out where Pimlico rests today. The race was called, fittingly, the Dinner Party Stakes. Seven horses entered. Of the two colts in that group, one owned by Milton Sanford won. Sanford made his money selling blankets during the Civil War. The horse's name was Preakness. Three years later, the race took his name and became a centerpiece for much history.
The House of Representatives closed down for a day in 1877 so members could attend the races. In 1908, an auto race record for a mile was set when Italy's Emmanuele Cedrino turned a Pimlico mile in 51 seconds. Sadly, Cedrino stayed on the gas too long. He finished the mile, crashed and died.
Anti-gambling swept the country in 1910 and only two states kept horse racing — Kentucky and Maryland. In 1938, a crowd of 43,000 watched Seabiscuit beat War Admiral in a match race. Two years later, Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap so that Laura Hillenbrand had a book to write and Hollywood had another movie.
In a more recent and sad piece of Preakness history, Barbaro broke down in front of the main grandstand in 2006 and eventually succumbed to the injury. Some of the TV audience watching that day undoubtedly decided to never watch again.
Barbaro was a huge Triple Crown Hope in '06. So was Big Brown in '08.
Now, it is Orb, poised to make more history in Pimlico's shadow. So is jockey Rosie Napravnik, perhaps the most accomplished female rider since Julie Krone. Napravnik rode Mylute to fourth in the Derby and could become the first female jockey in the money here. Only two other women have ridden in the Preakness.
Saturday will deliver results of the big bubble of hope. Friday brought perspective on that from two Hall of Fame trainers, each with five Preakness wins and each fast with the quip.
How big a boost does racing really get from a Triple Crown?
Wayne Lukas, who will saddle Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown 5 on Saturday, answered, "Not as big as you think…Orb's a good horse, but you guys have gotten carried away because you don't have anything else to do."
Bob Baffert, who will saddle Govenor Charlie, answered that it excites owners at horse sales, but it can't solve current problems in California racing, adding, "There's so much negativity. We're like Bosnia."
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