As the sun rises over Pimlico Race Course this morning, the day of the 138th Preakness Stakes (G1), you can still grab a seat on Orb’s bandwagon. But you’d better hurry the bus is filling up fast.
Racing fans can already purchase Orb apparel from concession stands around Pimlico. Why tempt the Racing Gods before the latest Kentucky Derby winner even dons the traditional 18 x 90 inch blanket of Black-Eyed Susans in the Pimlico winner’s enclosure? The gear doesn’t proclaim Orb a Triple Crown winner, but still, let’s not get ahead of the story.
Professional sports leagues—MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL –create championship merchandise ahead of big games and donate the losing team’s hats and t-shirts to a group called World Vision, an international humanitarian aid organization that takes the discarded merchandise and ships it to disaster areas and impoverished nations. We need Orb merchandise right here at home but shouldn’t we wait until he becomes only the 12th Thoroughbred in history and first since Florida-bred Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Triple Crown before we anoint him as the next great superstar? Believe me, I’m rooting for him. He certainly looks the part.
Winning the Kentucky Derby is without question a special and noteworthy accomplishment, but there is a winner each year, 139 to date. Orb has enough riding on his shoulders this afternoon. Granted, he has won five consecutive races. He is training magnificently according to all of the human connections closest to the rapidly-improving colt, but as we know, anything can happen in horse racing.
Orb’s owners, cousins Dinny Phipps and Stuart Janney III, hail from families that date back to racing’s glory days. Widely respected Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who stands only 5 feet 5 inches tall, is looked up to by his peers in the industry and he has had his hands on some of the game’s finest runners. Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Lure and Coronado’s Quest are just a few of them. Easy Goer’s memorable Preakness stretch battle with Sunday Silence is still talked about in these parts. Jockey Pat Day took responsibility for the narrow loss saying after the race it was “rider error” that cost the Phipps homebred the second jewel of the Triple Crown in 1989. Easy Goer turned the tables in the Belmont Stakes (G1), authoritatively foiling Sunday Silence’s Triple Crown bid with an 8-length triumph. His time for the 1 ½ miles a scintillation 2:26, marked the second-fastest time recorded in the race behind only Secretariat’s world-record time of 2:24.
As the racing industry celebrates the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s 1973 Triple Crown, writer William Nack said of Secretariat in The Baltimore Sun this week: “The Derby made him a star. The Preakness made him spectacular. And the Belmont made him immortal.”
As Nack said of Secretariat, Orb is a star after winning the Kentucky Derby in impressive fashion. Orb has inspired confidence in his connections. With a victory in today’s Preakness, he will capture the imaginations of racing fans everywhere. Orb is versatile. If the early pace is too fast he can close from the clouds as he did in the Kentucky Derby. If the pace is more pedestrian as it was in the Florida Derby he can stalk within striking range and still draw clear late. How he fares over the famed Pimlico surface this afternoon will play a significant role in ultimately determining how history remembers him.
The stars seem aligned for Orb. He is the even-money Preakness favorite in a field of nine. Derby also-rans Itsmyluckyday and Goldencents, as well as new shooter Governor Charlie have dangerous speed and will likely have a say in the race’s outcome. But if Orb is as billed, fans in attendance or watching on NBC could be in for a real treat.
Almost as soon as the winner of the Preakness crosses the finish line, a painter climbs to the top of the replica Old Clubhouse cupola to paint the winner’s silks on the jockey of the horse and rider weather vane. The practice began in 1909.
When the paint dries on the weather vane sometime after 6:20 p.m. today, most likely in the Phipps and Janney colors carried by Orb, even more merchandise bearing the Derby winner’s name is certain to be available in New York three weeks hence. Let’s just hope the t-shirts don’t end up in Nicaragua alongside hats declaring the San Francisco 49ers the 2013 Super Bowl Champions.