Stevens shatters Triple Crown dreams on Oxbow
Report: USA, Saturday
Pimlico (Baltimore): Preakness Stakes (Grade 1) 3yo, 1m1½f, dirt
AMERICA'S Triple Crown dreams will have to be put on ice for at least another 12 months after Kentucky Derby winner Orb could finish only a dull fourth in the Preakness Stakes, in which comeback jockey Gary Stevens landed a remarkable wire-to- wire victory on Oxbow for legendary trainer D Wayne Lukas.
Stevens, 50, returned to the saddle only in January after seven years' retirement. Now five months later he has claimed the middle leg of the Triple Crown for his old sparring partner Lukas, himself back in the spotlight after a spell in the wilderness as he collected his sixth Preakness.
Sent off a 15-1 shot, Oxbow was responsible for Lukas's 14th victory in a Triple Crown race, but his first since the Belmont of 2000. The son of Awesome Again, only sixth behind Orb in the Kentucky Derby, made all before a decisive success over Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, with Orb labouring down the stretch to finish a dull fourth.
Much of the credit for the victory must go to Stevens, who was completing a Graded-stakes double for Lukas and Oxbow's owners, the Calumet Farm operation of Brad Kelley, after a similar all-the-way win on outsider Skyring in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes on turf.
In the main event, Stevens sent Oxbow to the front ahead of Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents as they passed the stands first time and then managed to set tepid fractions - despite a seeming abundance of pace among his eight rivals.
Orb was settled in midpack on the rails from his inside draw, which may have been more detrimental to his chances than expected as Pimlico appeared to have a dead strip on the inner on earlier races during Saturday's card.
Stevens masterfully moved Oxbow a couple of lanes out from the rail throughout, controlling the speed through easy splits of 23.94s, 48.60s and 1m13.26s which allowed him to keep more than enough in reserve to go clear as they exited the far turn.
"When we hit the half-mile pole, I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Is this happening?'" Stevens told NBC. "The race was over at that point. I just walked the dog to the half-mile pole."
Itsmyluckyday and Mylute gave vain pursuit, but neither looked like catching Oxbow, who powered home by a length and three-quarters with a half-length separating second and third. The final time of 1m57.54s was the slowest since Carry Back in 1961.
"This is so special," added Stevens, who had won the Preakness twice before on Silver Charm (1997) and Point Given (2001). He has won nine Triple Crown races altogether, among them three Kentucky Derbys including a pair for Lukas on Winning Colors and Thunder Gulch.
"It's real special for me to do this for Wayne," said the rider. "He was one of the first people to call me up in January when I came back and he told me he had a horse for me to ride, and that was Oxbow.
"He didn't get a lot of respect even after his great performance in the Derby but we came in here with a lot of confidence."
Lukas, 77, was full of praise for his jockey. "I think I got a Hall of Fame ride," Lukas said, revealing that it hadn't been the plan to make the running.
"Once the gate opens, they have to make decisions," he added. "I'm happy for Gary and I'm happier for Brad Kelley, who is trying to revive Calumet. It's very gratifying.
"As I was saying earlier, I get paid to spoil dreams. You can't mail it in. It's a different surface and a different time. You gotta line them up and run them."
Kentucky Derby winner Orb was in another country back in fourth under Joel Rosario, nearly seven lengths behind third-placed Mylute.
Although the Kentucky Derby winner had moved up between horses to take third for a few strides on the back stretch, he was struggling for pace on the far turn and slipped back through the field before a mild rally in the straight, long after Oxbow had the race in safe-keeping.
"I'm disappointed, but I know how the game works," said Orb's trainer Shug McGaughey. "I thought we were laying in a good position but the pace was slower than I really anticipated. He said he took him down on the inside there, and he said he was never really comfortable when he got down in there."