BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Kentucky Derby winner Orb was installed as the even-money favorite to win Saturday’s 138th Preakness Stakes, the middle leg of the Triple Crown, after drawing the inside post at Wednesday’s barrier draw.
With just nine horses entered in the $1 million race at Pimlico, Orb’s trainer Shug McGaughey said he expected his three-year-old to get a smooth run under the guidance of his red-hot jockey Joel Rosario.
“He’ll get a clean break and he’ll be able to sit where he wants to sit,” said McGaughey.
“If he’s good enough, he’ll be able to make that run, and hopefully he gets there.”
A versatile runner, Orb came from well behind to win the Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4 after drawing 16th in a far more congested field.
“It’s a big difference than 19 or 20 horses, especially trying to get around that first turn at Churchill Downs,” McGaughey said.
”I think here they’ll probably spread themselves out with just nine and we’ll be fine.
Rosie Napravnik, looking to become the first female jockey to win the Preakness, will ride the second favorite, Mylute, a 5-1 morning line choice that will start from the fifth gate.
Illinois Derby winner Departing, a bay gelding who did not run at Churchill Downs, was listed as the third choice at 6-1 and will break from the four hole under Brian Hernandez.
Departing’s trainer Al Stall said he believed his horse, a winner in three of four starts this year, would be fresher after skipping the trip to Kentucky.
”In this day and age the modern thoroughbred seems to like a little time in-between races,“ he said. ”I don’t know why. So we’re fortunate enough to have 28 days between the Illinois Derby and now.
“It gave us time to improve and he really has improved. You can see it on a day-to-day basis when you train him.”
Other horses in the Preakness include Goldencents, the Santa Anita Derby winner who finished a disappointing 17th at Churchill Downs for trainer Doug O‘Neill, and Florida Derby runner-up Itsmyluckyday.
O‘Neill’s Kentucky-bred bay, an 8-1 early line choice, will break from the second post with Kevin Krigger in the silks, while Itsmyluckyday opens from the far outside at 10-1 odds.
Stall said the post positions would have little bearing on the race, to be run on dirt over a mile and three-sixteenths.
“The post doesn’t really matter in this type of race, this type of track with a nine-horse field,” he said. “It’s just a good party to come to.”
If Orb wins the Preakness, he will have the chance to complete the elusive Triple Crown, the greatest prize in U.S. thoroughbred horse racing.
It has been 35 years since the last horse, Affirmed, swept the three classic races, but a victory in the Preakness would give Orb his chance to join the sport’s elite if he can win the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 8.
His chances of winning the second leg were helped by the reduced entries for the Preakness, which will go off with the smallest field since 2007.
Editing by Julian Linden