Preakness field murky after Orb

The Preakness is supposed to be the easiest of the three Triple Crown races to predict. There isn’t the mystery which comes with the unknowns of the Kentucky Derby fields, and there’s no distance factor which comes with the running of the Belmont.

This year is different, though. There is very little which was truly determined by the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, other than there isn’t a horse in the field as good as Orb. After that, the outlook for the field is as murky as the muddy dirt the 20 horses ran on at Churchill Downs.

So let’s focus first on what we do know about the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes today. And what we learned is Orb is very capable of winning a Triple Crown. I’d even go as far as to say he should win the Triple Crown. That’s a gutsy statement considering there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

But this isn’t as much about Orb being a superior horse. In all honesty, horses like Big Brown or Real Quiet may have been superior horses. This is more about a field that just can’t find someone to compete with him. The best chance for a horse to run with the burly colt may have been Verrazano, but he trailed off near the end of the Kentucky Derby after a break-neck pace and finished a disappointing 14th.

Oddmakers at Pimlico obviously agree. Orb was an even money morning line favorite. That’s a mark I thought Orb wouldn’t reach until about post time today. No other horse has morning line odds of better than 5-1, and the fact that line was given to Mylute and not a Kentucky Derby fan favorite like Goldencents speaks volumes of the skepticism after Goldencents faded over the final 1/2-mile in the Kentucky Derby.

In all likelihood, Goldencents is the only horse who can catch Orb for the second leg of the Triple Crown. He’s a speed horse who got caught up in too much speed at Churchill Downs. What makes Goldencents a factor again this week is that the race is just 1 3/16 of a mile long, as opposed to the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby. Also, without horses like Verrazano, Palace Malice and Falling Sky in the Preakness field, Goldencents is the speed horse in the race. So he’ll likely be the one to set the pace.

Don’t expect a 22-second quarter-mile pace, or a 45-second half mile pace. Those numbers are likely to be more like 24 and 49. And this is what favors Goldencents. This will allow the Rick Pitino-owned colt to conserve his energy and be a factor down the stretch the way he was when winning the Santa Anita Derby.

This is supposed to be the most difficult of the three Triple Crown races for Orb to win, and the way it’s played out, it may be the easiest. While there were potentially six or seven winners in the Kentucky Derby – prior to an all-day rain which muddied the track – it’s hard to find a horse capable of beating Orb today.

So what does this mean for amateur handicappers? It means there’s not going to be much money in betting purely on a winner. Let’s be honest, those who know the least about wagering on horse racing are always going to bet on a winner and hope to get some kind of payment back on their investment.

My trip to the Mohegan Sun in Wilkes-Barre two weeks ago to place wagers for the Kentucky Derby involved me toting along nearly $100 worth of bets for friends of mine who, for the most part, have only vague understandings about horse racing, but are capable of reading preview stories in newspapers and picking a winner. For the record, none of them won, but I did. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back some more.

A 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby allows for a horse like Golden Soul, who had flown under the radar as a 36-1 to finish in the top three and elevate payouts. With a nine-horse field for the Preakness, only one horse has morning-line odds of at least 20-1, and that’s Paul Hornung-owned Titletown Five at 30-1.

You may see a few horses fall back to that 15-1 to 20-1 line as wagers on horses like Goldencents, Mylute and Departing climb throughout the day. But the money today is going to come from playing your exotics. There are no two horses that are going to go 1-2 with minimal odds like I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister which drastically reduced the payouts of exotics.

In fact, the better question today might be about who finishes second, third and fourth than about who wins. This is where you have to consider a horse Oxbow, one of the only horses two weeks ago to handle the early break-neck pace and still have something left for the push down the stretch. This is where you have to consider a horse like Itsmyluckyday who finished second place to Orb at the Florida Derby and was the betting favorite for that race.

Departing, though, is the horse to keep an eye on. He’s an Illinois Derby winner and third-place finisher at the prestigious Louisiana Derby. He’s a newcomer to the Triple Crown field after not running in the Kentucky Derby.

This is a solid, albeit unspectacular horse. This is the perfect race for Departing to make an appearance. He’s never run longer than 1 1/8-mile, so the 1 3/16-mile Preakness should fit this horse well.

What is truly interesting about the Preakness is the uncertainty that is going to lie with second and third places today. It’s truly the only similarity to the Kentucky Derby. After the top two or three horses in the Derby, it was really anybody’s guess what would happen. Consider the same, today, for your second and third places in the Preakness.

My picks

To win: Orb.

Exacta: 1, Orb; 2, Itsmyluckyday.

Trifecta: 1, Orb; 2, Itsmyluckyday; 3, Goldencents.

Superfecta: 1, Orb; 2, Itsmyluckyday; 3, Goldencents; 4, Mylute.

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at Follow him on Twitter at Mitch_Rupert.