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May 17, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Triple Crown or bust

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 (Sports Network) - Maybe this is the year.

Maybe this is the year the 35-year Triple Crown drought is finally broken.

Since Affirmed last swept all three classic races for 3-year-olds - the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes - several horses have won the first two events but were unable to close the deal in the Belmont.

This year, Kentucky Derby winner Orb has been granted the rare pleasure of having a relatively lesser regarded level of competition to race against. Only eight other 3-year-olds have been entered in this year's Preakness, five coming off the Kentucky Derby plus three new shooters.

Orb's Run for the Roses victory was so impressive that the colt has been installed as the even-money favorite for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"I saw in the papers it being bounced around at even money or 4-5," said Orb's trainer Shug McHaughey. "I might have been a little bit surprised that he is even-money and the second choice is 5-1. It's a pretty good spread. We'll see what the public does. As I've always said, I wish everything I ran was even- money or the favorite because they've got something on their line that makes them that way. Orb is that way, too."

The fact that the second pick in the nine-horse field for Saturday is 5-1 indicates the wide difference between Orb and the rest of the field. And if anybody thinks that getting the inside post will put the favorite in a disadvantageous position, think again.

"He won the Fountain of Youth from the '1.' His first race was from the '1' and he finished third in a very good race," McGaughey noted. "Obviously, if I was going to pick it out, I wouldn't have picked the '1.' But with only nine horses in there to run a mile and three-sixteenths, with a rider like Joel (Rosario), he's going to figure out what to do. He'll have him in the right spot."

Having Rosario riding Orb is another reason the colt is such a strong favorite and given early promise to win the Triple Crown. The jockey is having an incredible year with wins in both the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup.

Rosario getting back on Orb for the Kentucky Derby only happened after John Velazquez chose to ride Verrazano in the race. Orb's first five starts were all with Rosario in the saddle.

"We're tickled to death to have Joel," McGaughey said recently. "We were tickled to death to get him. And to have the year that he started off with, this year, makes us that much more confident; coming off a good Gulfstream, a great Keeneland, winning five opening night over at Churchill Downs. The kid's riding with all kinds of confidence, and as you saw him riding Orb in the Derby."

The pace of the Preakness should be more honest than the hot pace that Palace Malice set at Churchill Downs.

"Goldencents with the '2' probably forces our hand a little bit, but we'll just see what some of the others do," McGaughey said. "Titletown Five is probably going to show some speed coming off a mile race. I think the field will spread itself out to where we'll be able to get a position and do what we want to do."

Finally, favorites love to win the Preakness. The favorite won the race every year between 2001 and 2005, along with Big Brown winning in 2008.

This is the year that the Triple Crown should finally be swept as Orb conquers his opposition in the Preakness and goes on to claim the Belmont Stakes on June 8.

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