This was a Preakness that put the spotlight on horsemanship, knowledge and skill developed over many years in the barn and in the saddle.
The old guys won – and did it with style.
Oxbow, prepared masterfully for the Preakness by 77-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas and ridden masterfully by 50-year-old jockey Gary Stevens, controlled the second jewel of the Triple Crown all the way and cruised to a 1 3/4-length victory over Itsmyluckyday.
Experience matters in racing, and Oxbow’s victory proved the point.
Lukas gave credit to Stevens, who gave credit to Lukas. Mutual respect was flowing back and forth between Hall of Famers.
“Let me say this: I think I got a Hall of Fame ride,’’ Lukas said. “I think we can plan this thing. We can talk about strategy, But once the gate is open, they have to make decisions. Gary made some great ones.’’
Stevens said: “I’m not going to lie to you. To win a classic at 50 years old after seven-years retirement, it doesn’t get any better than this. This is super, super sweet, and it happened for the right guy. All the stars were aligned. I couldn’t be more pleased winning this thing. It’s even more special winning it for Wayne Lukas and his team.’’
Lukas made history. His sixth Preakness win gave him 14 victories in Triple Crown races, breaking the record that he had shared with legendary Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for trainers. Stevens, whose first classic victory came for Lukas on Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby in 1988, won the Preakness for the third time.
Both men should be inspirations to anyone concerned about getting older.
Lukas doesn’t slow down. He’s the first at the track every morning, on his pony as his horses go through their drills. It’s amazing to watch him work.
“I get young guys that say, ‘I’ll do anything,’’’ Lukas said. “‘I’ll wash pots, and I’ll get up and be right there. And I look at them and say, ‘We’ll test you on that.’ I would say they have to have a passion for it. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. The most important thing is to have a complete, unquestionable passion for the industry and what you want to do.’’
That describes Stevens, who battled knee problems for years before coming back to the game. He showed Saturday he still can play with anybody.
“In these classic races, you don’t give up anything that they give you free, and they gave me a free three-quarters of a mile today, and I was smiling pretty good midway down the backside,’’ Stevens said. “I actually thought about Wayne up in the grandstands. I knew he had to be looking at those fractions and pleased with what he was seeing, When I saw Oxbow’s ears fluttering back and forth at the three-eighths pole, the thought of the 1988 Kentucky Derby came back to me. I said, ‘Kick from here.’
As Oxbow kicked away, Orb, the odds-on favorite, was floundering to a fourth-place finish. He was the focus of the race all week, but he lacked the punch that he showed in the Kentucky Derby.
When potential pace pushers Goldencents, Govenor Charlie and Titletown Five didn’t press Oxbow early, the scenario was unfavorable for Orb. But he had closed off a slow pace in the Florida Derby. This time, he lacked punch.
“When I got to the half-mile pole, he had a hard time keeping up,’’ jockey Joel Rosario said. “I used my stick to try to get him going. He usually takes you there. He always runs hard, But today he never took off.’’
Before the race, he looked like a deserving favorite. After the race, the $32.80 that Oxbow paid to win looked like a gift for those smart enough to have faith in him and the old guys.
For Lukas, surprise victories are nothing new. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1999 with Cat Thief, who paid $41.20.
Earlier that year, Charismatic paid $64.60 to win the Derby for Lukas. Heck, he paid $18.80 in the Preakness two weeks later. The bettors still didn’t have faith.
Spain paid $113.80 win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff for Lukas in 2000, the same year Commendable won the Belmont for him and paid $39.60. That was Lukas’ last victory in a Triple Crown race before Saturday.
In the race before this Preakness, Stevens and Lukas pulled another surprise, winning the Dixie Stakes with Skyring, who paid $50.40.
These guys weren’t messing around Saturday.
“I don’t wake up and have to prove to anybody I can train a racehorse,’’ Lukas said. “I do it for the personal atisfaction.’’
Before Saturday, Stevens hadn’t won a Triple Crown race since riding Point Given to victory in the Belmont in 2001.
“You’re only as good as the horses you ride and the people that you ride for,’’ Stevens said. “And I rode for what I consider to be one of the greatest trainers of all time today.’’
Oxbow and the old guys made a marvelous team.