BALTIMORE – On a gray day at Pimlico, the Sunshine Boys ruled.
Jockey Gary Stevens, who came out of a seven-year retirement in January, and trainer D. Wayne Lukas, still going strong at age 77, put added shine on their Hall of Fame careers and put an end to the Triple Crown aspirations of Orb by teaming to win the138th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course with the 15-1 longshot Oxbow.
Oxbow ($32.80), sixth in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, benefited from a race shape that was vastly different from the Derby, in which Oxbow was close to a hot pace and held on best of those nearest that pace. In the Preakness, Oxbow was surprisingly left alone on the lead while setting moderate fractions, and had plenty left to lead from start to finish.
Oxbow finished 1 3/4 lengths in front of Itsmyluckyday, who was a half-length better than Mylute, with Orb, the Derby winner, a distant fourth, nine lengths behind Oxbow. Goldencents was fifth and was followed, in order, by Departing, Will Take Charge, Govenor Charlie, and Titletown Five.
The track was rated fast, but was a bit on the dull side all day, resulting in a final time of 1:57.54 for 1 3/16 miles.
“This is the reason I came back, to win races like this, the classics,” said Stevens, 50.
Stevens and Lukas first won a Triple Crown race together in 1988, with the filly Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby. They also teamed for a Derby win with Thunder Gulch in 1995. This was the third Preakness win for Stevens, and the sixth for Lukas.
But for Lukas, it put him number one all-time among trainers for Triple Crown race victories with 14, separating him from the late “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who was tied with Lukas with 13. Lukas had not won a Triple Crown race since Charismatic won the 1999 Preakness.
“It’s been awhile, but it never gets old,” said Lukas, who said Stevens gave Oxbow “a Hall-of-Fame ride.”
Stevens has been re-energized by his return to riding. In the jockeys’ room after the Kentucky Derby, while waiting to do a television interview, he had a wide smile as he watched a replay, and said being in that race, the feeling it gave him, made the sacrifices of losing weight to get into riding shape worth it. Stevens won the Preakness in front of his third wife, Angie, and their 4-year-old daughter, Maddie, who until Stevens returned had never seen her father ride in a race.
Angie and Maddie Stevens watched the race adjacent to the rail near the winner’s circle.
“Go Daddy, Go Daddy,” Maddie yelled as the field came down the stretch.
Afterwards, Angie Stevens said, “I’m in shock.”
“This is so exciting,” she said.
Preakness Day dawned cloudy and overcast, and light rain occasionally fell midway through the card, but it was never an appreciable amount, and it had stopped by the time the Preakness was run.
Oxbow, starting from post 6 in the nine-horse field, left the gate alertly and had a 1 1/2-length lead after an opening quarter-mile in 23.94 seconds. Nursed along by Stevens, Oxbow continued with a daylight lead after a half-mile in 48.60 seconds and six furlongs in 1:13.26.
“They gave me a free three-quarters of a mile today,” Stevens said.
With a half-mile to go, “I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Stevens said. “The race was over. I just walked the dog.”
As the field went around the far turn, Stevens said he tried the same move he made all those years ago with Winning Colors, attempting to bust the race open with three furlongs to go.
“I wanted to kick away and try to get some separation,” he said.
By the time the field straightened away in the lane, Oxbow had extended his lead to three lengths, and the result was not in doubt. Stevens burst into a beaming smile as Oxbow crossed under the wire.
“To win a classic, at 50 years old, after seven years of retirement, is super, super sweet,” Stevens said.
“The old man did it,” said jockey Julien Leparoux, who rode Titletown Five.
For Orb, the Preakness ended a five-race win streak that had left him the talk of racing. He was sent off the 3-5 favorite, but never was a serious threat. Sixth going into the first turn, Orb advanced between horses going down the backstretch, but nearing the three-furlong pole could not keep pace with rivals nearest him and was shuffled back to seventh.
“I knew I was in trouble," said his jockey, Joel Rosario. "He really was having trouble holding his position."
With the loss by Orb, the Triple Crown will go unclaimed for another year. It has not been won since Affirmed in 1978. The current drought is the longest in Triple Crown history since Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919.
Two of those Triple Crowns – Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948 - were won by storied Calumet Farm, at the time owned by the Wright family. Because of mismanagement by their heirs, the farm fell on hard times in the early 1990s. But it is being resurrected by the reclusive tobacco magnate Brad Kelley, the owner of Oxbow. Kelley, as is his custom, was not in attendance.Oxbow has now won three times in 11 starts. In his first start this year, he won the Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Between that and the Kentucky Derby, he was fourth in the Risen Star, second in the Rebel, and fifth in the Arkansas Derby.
Oxbow earned $600,000 from an overall purse of $1 million to bring his career earnings to $983,500. He is by the sire Awesome Again, and is out of the Cee’s Tizzy mare Tizamazing. He was purchased as a yearling by Lukas on behalf of Kelley for $250,000.
* Attendance ontrack on Saturday at Pimlico was 117,203, the fourth-highest Preakness crowd in history, said track officials. Handle on the 13-race card from all sources was $81,940,233, the sixth-highest Preakness Day handle, officials said. Of the total handle amount, $50,251,542 was bet on the Preakness Stakes.
- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini
D. Wayne Lukas has won the Preakness six times:
Timber Country, 1995
Tabasco Cat, 1994
Tank’s Prospect, 1985
Jockey Gary Stevens, has won the Preakness three times:
Point Given, 2001
Silver Charm, 1997
Calumet Farm has won the Preakness eight times. It bred all of the winners but Oxbow.
Oxbow, 2013 (First for Calumet Farm operation of Brad Kelley)
Forward Pass, 1968
Tim Tam, 1958