Kentucky Derby winner Orb was heavily favored to win Saturday's $1 million Preakness at Pimlico, middle jewel of the Triple Crown, but at the conclusion of the 1 3/16-mile classic it was Oxbow, another colt with legendary connections, who ended Orb's quest to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
Surrounded by racing's latest incarnation of the Sunshine Boys, recently un-retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, 50, and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 77, Oxbow turned in a front-running masterpiece to land the Preakness for Brad Kelley's Calumet Farm, the historic Lexington, Kentucky, nursery Kelley purchased last year.
For Stevens, who returned to race-riding in January after a seven-year absence, it was his ninth classic victory and his third in the Preakness, having scored previously with Silver Charm (1997) and Point Given (2001).
"To win a classic at 50 years old after seven years retirement, it doesn't get any better than this. This is super, super sweet, and it happened for the right guy," said Stevens, who also captured the Dixie Stakes with 24-1 longshot Skyring for Calumet and Lukas in the race before the Preakness.
This was Lukas's 14th Triple Crown race win, surpassing the record he jointly held with fellow Hall of Famer "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons, but his first classic since 2000. He now has six Preakness wins, trailing only the seven conditioned by R. Wyndham Walden in the late 19th century. Lukas scored his first Preakness win 33 years ago with Codex.
Oxbow's was the eighth Preakness win for Calumet Farm, although the famous devil red and blue silks associated with the stable have long since passed into history. Calumet's previous Preakness winners include Triple Crown heroes Whirlaway and Citation.
Stevens sent Oxbow to the front passing the stands, keeping the colt well off the inside, and set highly sensible fractions of :23 4/5, :48 3/5 and 1:13 1/5 over a fast track that had been producing slow times throughout the weekend. With Goldencents his closest pursuer to the far turn, Oxbow let it out a notch approaching the quarter pole and appeared to have plenty left in reserve for the stretch run.
"I fully expected that Orb, possibly Departing and Will Take Charge, would be making a run," Stevens said. "I couldn't believe that no one challenged me going into the far turn, but when no one did, I said, 'I think everybody's in trouble right now.'"
Floating out into the middle of the track at the top of the lane, Oxbow was chased by Itsmyluckyday, Mylute and Departing. Farther back was Orb, the 3-5 favorite, who broke from post 1 and stayed fairly close to the rail throughout. The Derby winner was passed briefly by Departing rounding the far turn and it did not appear from that point as if he would reproduce his marvelous effort from Churchill Downs two weeks ago.
"He was in a good spot early in the race. They were going slow up front and he was fine," said Joel Rosario, the jockey aboard Orb. "When I got to the half-mile pole, he had a hard time keeping up. I used my stick to try to get him going. He usually takes you there. He always runs hard. But today he never took off. He just steadied. Today was not his day."
Approaching the finish, Itsmyluckyday and Mylute continued to make a little headway at Oxbow, but the slow early pace helped the Awesome Again colt seal the deal by 1 3/4 lengths in a time of 1:57 2/5.
Sent off at 15-1 Oxbow, returned $32.80, $12 and $6.80.
"A lot of critics are going to think that I'm full of it saying this, but I won with a little something left, believe it or not," Stevens said.
Itsmyluckyday held second by a half-length over Mylute, who was followed, in order, by Orb, Goldencents, Departing, Will Take Charge, Govenor Charlie and Titletown Five.
The announced crowd at Pimlico was 117,203, the fourth largest all time at the Preakness, and the track announced all-sources handle of $81,940,233, the sixth highest Preakness Day handle.
Oxbow is scheduled to depart Pimlico for Churchill Downs at 4:30 a.m. (EDT) Sunday morning. Lukas said the Preakness winner is likely to point for the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, on June 8.
"We haven't had a chance to cool him out yet and I've got to talk to Mr. Kelley," Lukas said. "But you know me, I like to rack them up in the big events. So I'll probably go."
Oxbow could have another rematch with Orb in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, a race that is also likely to attract Golden Soul and Revolutionary, the Kentucky Derby second- and third-place finishers, as well as Peter Pan winner Freedom Child.
Oxbow received a winner's share of $600,000, boosting his career earnings to $983,500. A maiden winner at Churchill Downs last November in his fourth start, Oxbow finished fourth in the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in his final race at two.
Oxbow kicked off 2013 with an authoritative 11 1/2-length win in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds, weakened late to fourth in the Risen Star over the same track, and then missed by a head to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. He concluded his Kentucky Derby preparatory work with a dull fifth-place effort in a slowly-run renewal of the Arkansas Derby.
In the Kentucky Derby Oxbow finished sixth, 9 3/4 lengths behind Orb, but was widely considered to have run a strong race given how close the colt had raced to a blistering pace. He held on much better than the other speed, getting to within a half-length of the lead at the quarter pole before fizzling out in the sloppy going.
Bred by Colts Neck Stables in Kentucky, Oxbow is a close relative of Paynter, last year's Haskell Invitational hero who riveted the nation by beating life-threatening colitis and laminitis. Supported by the votes of his many fans, Paynter earned both the Vox Populi Award and the NTRA Moment of the Year, for his protracted battle.
Both are by Awesome Again and out of full sisters to Hall of Famer Tiznow, the only two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic. Paynter is out of the mare Tizso, while Oxbow is out of her full sister Tizamazing. The mares are likewise full sisters to multiple Grade 2 star Budroyale, Grade 3 scorer Tizdubai and Grade 2-placed stakes winner Tizbud.
Tizamazing has also produced Grade 3-placed stakes winner Awesome Patriot, a full brother to Oxbow.