There’s the king

Published By: 
Bob Fortus
May 19, 2013

“There’s the king,’’ trainer D. Wayne Lukas said early Sunday morning as Preakness winner Oxbow was led into the van that would take him back to Churchill Downs.

Oxbow, who got away with a slow pace under a clever ride from Gary Stevens and won without being challenged, certainly was king of the Preakness.

But which 3-year-old ultimately will be deemed ruler of the crop is far from determined. It’s still early in the year, and many significant races, starting with the Belmont Stakes, remain.

Orb, of course, had a chance to take a commanding position in the race for 3-year-old, but the Derby winner fell flat in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, finishing fourth.

“We were fourth-best yesterday, and we will have a chance to improve on that as we go along,’’ trainer Shug McGaughey said.

Oxbow, who finished sixth in the Derby, 9 ¾ lengths behind Orb, has joined him as a classic winner.

Some people will criticize Oxbow’s performance because of the time. Oxbow ran the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:57.54, the slowest Preakness since Carry Back won in 1:57 3-5 in 1961.

Oxbow ran fast enough to win comfortably, and winning is the object of the sport. He doesn’t deserve criticism for doing what a racehorse is supposed to do. It wasn’t as if he barely held on after setting such a slow pace. The race unfolded favorably for him, and he took advantage. He performed like a professional racehorse should.

Also, keep in mind that track conditions affect time. The track was rated fast but was far from fast.

At the end of the week, Lukas, on his pony during training hours, pointed out that the track was deeper than it had been earlier in the week. On Friday and Saturday, times were slow for all categories of horses.

Bill Brasaemle, an Equibase chart caller in Maryland, said that times at this meet have been slower than in previous years.

Late runners seemed to have an advantage on Friday and Saturday, yet Oxbow led all the way. The slow pace helped greatly.

A surprising aspect of this Preakness was that Oxbow didn’t have company in the early running. Stevens guided him through a half-mile in 48.60 seconds and six furlongs in 1:13.26. Because Oxbow was unpressured to his outside on the backstretch, Stevens was able to keep him well off the rail, on faster ground.

Lukas said that when saw the six-furlong fraction on the tote board, he knew Oxbow would be tough to beat.

Lukas said he was surprised that Goldencents and Govenor Charlie didn’t show early speed. Shug McGaughey, trainer of Orb, and Tom Amoss, trainer of Mylute, said that they also expected more early speed to develop.

Mylute rallied from last place after a half-mile to finish third, a half-length behind runner-up Itsmyluckyday. “On reflection, I think my horse ran the race of his career yesterday,’’ Amoss said. “The slow pace was just impossible for him to overcome.’’

Itsmyluckyday ran well, too, rebounding from a 15th-place finish on a sloppy track that he didn’t handle in the Kentucky Derby. Itsmyluckyday, by the way, was fast enough to set a track record this year at Gulfstream Park, and Oxbow was fast enough Saturday to finish 1 ¾ lengths in front of him.

“He almost ran a duplicate – it goes back a long way – but the Lecomte, when he ran the Lecomte, obviously lesser competition,” Lukas said. “But he got into that rhythm and stride and everything, and away he goes.’’

In the post-race press conference, Stevens said that Oxbow finished “with a little something left.’’ Stevens also expressed optimism about Oxbow’s potential to carry his speed in the Belmont.

“This horse has that happy kind of pace, and anybody that wants to come and tangle with him early on, bring it on,’’ Stevens said. You’re going to get in trouble if you tangle with him. That’s all I can say.’’

Not surprisingly, Lukas said Sunday that he’ll point Oxbow to the Belmont, and McGaughey said he like to run Orb.

The field likely will be large, and might even include fillies Unlimited Budget and Dreaming of Julia from Todd Pletcher’s barn.

Horse people won’t be viewing Orb or Oxbow as unbeatable. Opportunity awaits in New York. Off-the-radar horses, such as Da’ Tara, who won the Belmont in 2008, have a way of showing up.

“I’m sure there’ll be horses coming out of the woodwork now trying to win the Belmont, but that’s fine, too,’’ McGaughey said.




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