What could stop Orb in the PreaknessWhen the Preakness Stakes unfolds on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course, two things regarding the running of the race are likely to be different than the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands: 1) the surface, 2) the pace.
And it probably won't matter.
To say that neither surface nor pace played a role in the Derby outcome would be naive, but to suggest that Orb wouldn't have won on a fast track or with a slower pace or any combination of such variables would do an incredible disservice to the best Derby performance I can remember going back to the Barbaro-Street Sense-Big Brown treble of 2006-2008.
Orb earned a 111 Speed Rating and 126 Class Rating from Brisnet.com for his Derby tour de force. Orb's Derby win was similar to his Fountain of Youth in that it appeared as if his closing move won the race, but really, it was his ability to make a big middle move (122 E2 pace rating) that allowed him to be in contention turning for home.
That type of move is what it takes to win Derbys, and even with a fast track and dawdling pace at Pimlico, I'm expecting more of a Smarty Jones or Big Brown-type of performance at Old Hilltop than Mine That Bird or Animal Kingdom.
I don't reference those last two horses as an insult, but rather to illustrate that both had too much work to do to catch frontrunners Rachel Alexandra and Shackleford, respectively. Orb's style will allow him to take control of the race, and bury it if necessary a la Smarty Jones or Big Brown.
So is Orb beatable? Of course--they all are. But as things are now, he might be more bettable than beatable. He's fair value at 6-to-5 and maybe even money, and while I expect odds on, there is steam elsewhere (e.g. Departing) that might help the Derby winner to drift up.
The biggest question for me will be what to do with Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents, my top and third picks, respectively, in this year's Derby. Both have shown the talent to win. Their best and any regression from the Derby winner makes things interesting, but it's really hard for me to play for their best--even at generous odds--considering the dreadfulness of their Derby runs.
Derby also rans do just fine in the Preakness. Of the seven Preaknesses this century not won by the Derby winner, five had raced in the Derby: Shackleford in 2011, Lookin At Lucky in 2010, Curlin in 2007, Afleet Alex in 2005, and Point Given in 2001 with two of those (Lookin At Lucky & Point Given) being beaten favorites and another two being beaten second choices (Curlin and Afleet Alex). All seven had run well, though. Shackleford tired on the lead, Lookin At Lucky was beat by a rough trip from post 1, Curlin was jinxed by Apollo, Afleet Alex had a rough trip third, and Point Given chased a fast pace wide. I'm not saying they all ran great, but they all ran OK and had excuses.
With Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday this year, I'm grasping at straws. Yeah, maybe it was the pace and/or the surface, but neither threatened at any point in the race. Itsmyluckyday was working out what looked to be a fantastic trip but just never had any punch. Considering his Florida Derby where it looked like he was going to win like a good thing then was no match for Orb, can I really run it back on him in this spot?
It all comes down to the price you're willing to take that the pace and/or surface affected Derby runners, and what value exists in conceding that Orb is probably the best under any scenario.