Gary Stevens aboard Oxbow leads down the final stretch as Joel Rosario aboard Orb, right, traisl behind at Pimlico. Orb finished fourth.
(Photo: Paul Frederiksen, USA TODAY Sports)
BALTIMORE -- Two weeks after his superb performance in the Kentucky Derby, Orb was merely ordinary in the Preakness Saturday. His non-threatening fourth-place finish, 9 lengths behind Oxbow, crushed expectations that the 35-year wait for a Triple Crown sweep might finally be over.
As he watched the race on a television monitor, trainer Shug McGaughey quickly realized that Orb and jockey Joel Rosario were in trouble, their chances compromised by starting from the rail and a pedestrian pace.
"I'm a little surprised," McGaughey said. "I thought he would run his race today. I don't really know why he didn't run better, except that he was sort of crammed down in on the inside the whole way. I saw Joel going around the turn and trying to ease out and obviously he could never get him there. When he started making that run, I thought, 'Well, he must be a little more comfortable down there than he looks to me.' Obviously, he wasn't."
After Orb drew the rail in the nine-horse field, McGaughey said that it didn't really matter, that the one-hole wasn't a ticket to oblivion in the Preakness as it typically is in the Derby.
"When I look at it now, I think it probably did hurt us," he said. "We couldn't get him out. He probably would rather have a little more of a clearer shot than he had today."
Palace Malice set ridiculously fast early fractions in the Derby, which strung out the field and set the stage for Orb's explosive run from far back. Just the opposite type of race was run in the Preakness, with Oxbow and jockey Gary Stevens alone on the lead and able to turn in a half-mile split of :48.60 and get six furlongs in 1:13.26. Meanwhile, Rosario and Orb were struggling to find a clear run.
"The pace was slower than I anticipated," McGaughey said. "I thought maybe they would speed it up a little bit but they didn't, when they went in :48 and change.
"I still 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. I'm disappointed. I'll probably be way more disappointed tomorrow, but I know the game. It is highs and lows, probably more lows than highs."
Although McGaughey said that a Triple Crown sweep is so difficult because the races are so close together, he did not blame the quick two-week turnaround from the Derby as the reason his colt failed to turn in another big performance. He noted that the top three finishers all ran in the May 4 Derby, too.
"I don't think two weeks had anything to do with it," he said. "Oxbow ran back in two weeks. Itsmyluckyday ran back in two weeks, Mylute ran back in two weeks. I just think he got himself in a position where he wasn't real comfortable. Without the pace scenario in front of him - they really weren't spread out a little bit more than maybe I'd hoped - that probably affected him more than anything else."
Surrounded by reporters, McGaughey spent several minutes on the track calmly answering questions about what had happened and what might have been.
"I thought it was a great opportunity. We were 3-5 in the race and we finished fourth," he said. "I would be disappointed any time you had this kind of opportunity and didn't get it done. It was quite a run for a couple of weeks. We'll pack it up and go back home and see what kind of horse we've got down the road and figure it out from there."
McGaughey said he is interested in racing Orb in the Belmont Stakes on June 8.
Though he was quietly confident before the Derby, McGaughey showed signs of stress in the days leading up to the Preakness.
"There was more pressure, not because he was 3-5 but because I think so many people were hoping," he said. "We had a lot of people behind us. I'm disappointed in that respect. I did feel the pressure a little bit more today just because of that."
And McGaughey acknowledged that he did consider the possibility that Orb was the horse that might capture the Triple Crown.
"I tried to focus on today the whole time," he said, "but I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't think down the line a little bit, because I did. I thought we could get it done today and going back to Belmont we would really be comfortable there and probably really have a big chance."