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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Preakness Stakes: Orb at even money from rail in field of nine

BALTIMORE – Orb beat 18 rivals when he won the Kentucky Derby on May 4, and he did it so convincingly that only five of those runners are trying again in the 138th Preakness Stakes on Saturday here at Pimlico, along with three newcomers to the Triple Crown trail. Eight challengers, it seems, is enough.

A field of nine was entered Wednesday for the Preakness, and Orb – who drew post 1 – was installed as the even-money favorite on the lines of both Frank Carulli of Pimlico and Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper.

After that, though, Carulli and Watchmaker differ. Carulli made Mylute the second choice at 5-1, with Departing right behind at 6-1, followed by Goldencents at 8-1. Watchmaker has Goldencents the second choice at 5-1, with Departing at 6-1, and then three horses – Itsmyluckyday, Mylute, and Will Take Charge – all at 10-1.

This marks the fourth time since 2000 that the Preakness field will number nine or fewer. There were nine in both 2007, when Curlin won, and 2006, when Bernardini triumphed in a race marred by the terrible injuries suffered by Barbaro. There were eight in 2000, when Red Bullet upset Fusaichi Pegasus.

What those three races had in common was that the Derby winner was defeated, and all at short prices, two odds-on. Street Sense (2007) was 6-5, while both Barbaro (1-2) and Fusaichi Pegasus (3-10) were prohibitive favorites. In two of those cases – Bernardini and Red Bullet – the winner did not run in the Derby.

The biggest threat to Orb could be a newcomer to the Triple Crown but an old friend of Orb’s, that being Departing, who shared a paddock with Orb at the Hancock family’s historic Claiborne Farm when both were youngsters.

Departing, owned in partnership by Claiborne, was taken off the Derby trail after he finished third in the Louisiana Derby on March 30. Departing was rerouted to the April 20 Illinois Derby, which he won – significantly, it was his first start with Lasix – and now comes into the Preakness off four weeks’ rest, as opposed to the Derby runners, who are being wheeled back in two weeks.

“The Louisiana Derby was only his fourth start; he might have lacked some seasoning,” said Al Stall Jr., who trains Departing. “We thought the Derby was too tough. He’s a gelding, so we’re looking to get longevity out of him. We thought the Illinois Derby set us up well for the Preakness.”

Stall said Departing is “going in the right direction.”

“We’ve had to really slow him down galloping since the Louisiana Derby,” Stall said. “Before, he was just going around there. Now, he’s into it. He’s definitely progressed, without question.”

Departing arrived at Pimlico on Wednesday afternoon following a flight from Louisville, Ky., that included Triple Crown newcomer Govenor Charlie, who has not raced since winning the Sunland Derby on March 24. Govenor Charlie subsequently suffered a foot bruise that kept him out of the Derby, but he worked Monday “like the Govenor Charlie we know,” trainer Bob Baffert said.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has a three-pronged attack against Orb, giving him one-third of the field. Oxbow (sixth in the Derby) and Will Take Charge (eighth) are back for a rematch, while Titletown Five makes his Triple Crown debut after finishing fourth in the Derby Trial three weeks ago. He finished in front of Orb in a maiden race at Saratoga last summer, but Lukas readily admits that Orb is a far different horse now.

“He’s a good horse with good connections,” Lukas said. “Orb has to come back to us, and we have to move forward.”

Of the horses nearest the hot pace in the Derby, Oxbow performed best, hanging on for sixth.

“The pace for Oxbow was killer, yet he stayed around,” Lukas said. “He’s a gutsy, little horse.”

Will Take Charge was moving in tandem with Orb on the final turn of the Derby but ran up on the heels of Verrazano in upper stretch and lost all momentum.

“He’s 17 hands,” Lukas said. “He’s not a start-and-stop horse. I think he could have been second, realistically. I think Orb was best on the day.”

Orb arrived at Pimlico on Monday, walked Tuesday, then had a busier day Wednesday, jogging shortly after 6 a.m., followed by a schooling session in the indoor paddock about 9:40 a.m.

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