Preakness Stakes: Favorite Orb gets unfavorable rail

By Chris Korman
Baltimore Sun  • 
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BALTIMORE — A few low, indecipherable noises escaped from the table where Shug McGaughey, trainer of even-money Preakness favorite Orb, sat during the post-position draw yesterday.

The horse had drawn the dreaded No. 1 gate, meaning eight horses will be closing him in as they race toward the shortest path to the first turn.

McGaughey, though, was not among those who thought this meant anything significant.

“Some people groaned,” he said. “I didn’t groan.”

McGaughey acknowledged a preference to start on the outside of the field — where the jockey and horse can watch the field open up — but said he thought drawing the rail simply didn’t matter in a nine-horse field running over a mile and three-sixteenths.

“It’s a pretty straight start with only nine horses,” he said. “They won’t be jockeying for position as much going into the first turn as they did in the (Kentucky) Derby (with 19 horses). I think we’ll hold our position and see how the race plays out and take it from there.”

Orb remained the prohibitive favorite, as expected. Mylute, starting in the No. 5 spot, is the second choice of Pimlico handicapper Frank Carulli at 5-1. Todd Quast, general manager of owner GoldMark Farm, said his colt and jockey Rosie Napravnik would better be able to keep up with Orb coming from the outside.

Mylute threatened to make a run in the Derby but finished fifth.

“This time, maybe we keep a little better eye on him with his being on the inside, and we’ll see what happens,” Quast said.

No horse has won the Preakness from the No. 1 post since Tabasco Cat in 1994. Only one horse breaking from that gate since then has gone off as one of the top betting choices: Lion Heart was the second choice to 3-5 favorite Smarty Jones in 2004. The others were all at least 10-1.

D. Wayne Lukas, who trained Tabasco Cat, dismissed any sort of deep analysis of the draw but said Orb will have to contend with traffic.

“I don’t know the horse that well,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll have to ask Shug; he’ll have some thoughts on it. But it’s a small field, with a good run to the turn. I don’t think it’s very significant at all, except maybe for Orb.”

Jenn Patterson, the exercise rider for Orb, could not hide her disappointment and raised her hands to her head when the draw was announced. McGaughey said that reaction is left over from the Kentucky Derby, where being inside a large field can be insurmountable because of the traffic.

“It’s almost like if you draw it there, you just go home,” he said.

Despite all testimony to the contrary, whether Orb can find the space to win the Preakness — which is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby — will be much debated for the rest of the week.

“Really, nobody ever wants to be down inside,” said Jimmy Barns, assistant trainer for Bob Baffert, who entered 12-1 newcomer Governor Charlie in the Preakness. “You always think, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ but it just adds a little more pressure because you need the trip.

“Orb is a good horse. Hopefully, he’ll overcome it.”

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