BALTIMORE, Md. — It was Old Timer’s Day at Old Hilltop on Saturday afternoon. Seventy-seven-year-old D. Wayne Lukas and 50 year-old Gary Stevens teamed up to steal the 138th edition of the Preakness Stakes with 15-1 winner Oxbow.
The bay colt’s seizing of the early lead spoiled Orb’s quest for thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, a drought that now totals 35 years. It also put venerable Calumet Farm back on the front pages with its 10th Preakness win and first since 1968 when Forward Pass won on Pimlico Race Course’s biggest day.
In a brilliant ride by the Hall of Fame jockey, Stevens guided the son of Awesome Again in gate-to-wire fashion, only the third horse in the last 26 years of racing’s middle jewel to do so. In the exact opposite scenario that occurred two weeks ago at the Derby when Palace Malice set a blazing early pace, the slow early fractions determined who the winner would be early on. The final time of 1:57.54 resulted in the slowest Preakness since 1961.
“When I hit the half-mile pole, I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Is this happening?’ The race was over at that point. I just walked the dog to the half-mile pole,” said Stevens, the first grandfather to win a Triple Crown race in the saddle. Stevens, who was on the NBC telecast team during last year’s Preakness, started riding again in January after a seven-year hiatus.
“I couldn’t believe no one challenged me on the far turn, I couldn’t believe it,” said Stevens. Stevens rode his third career Preakness winner, his last coming in 2001.
For Lukas, the win added a few more notches to a Hall of Fame training career by surpassing James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons with his 14th career Triple Crown victory as well as winning his sixth Preakness.
“I got a Hall of Fame ride,” Lukas said of Stevens. “I told him, if you get on the lead get into that cruising speed and just let it happen. We actually thought that Goldencents and a couple of other horses might show a little bit more speed and we wouldn’t inherit the lead as easy as we did today.”
Orb who has looked nothing short of fabulous since his big Derby win two weeks ago just never responded after bobbling inward at the break, finishing off the board in fourth.
“Sometimes they have it, sometimes they don’t. It’s so hard to win the Triple Crown,” said jockey Joel Rosario on the track after the race.
A disappointed Shug McGaughey said the Derby champ just never got rolling. “I think he got himself in a position where he wasn’t comfortable and then without the pace scenario in front of him; they really weren’t spread out a little bit more than I’d hoped. That probably affected him more than anything else,” said McGaughey. “My hat’s off to Wayne to win his sixth Preakness. That’s pretty remarkable.”
Mylute’s third-place finish steered by Rosie Napravnik, who started her career in Maryland, was the highest ever in the Preakness by a female jockey. As she approached the weigh station after the race she lamented the slow early going. “There was no pace, so my horse had nothing to run into. That’s his style, but he still ran a good race,” said Napravnik.
To complete the Old Timer’s day theme, Oxbow’s ownership group, Calumet Farm, falls right into line with Lukas and Stevens. The farm was established by members of the Wright family in 1924, which had developed the Calumet Baking Powder Company, later sold to General Foods, on the famed Versailles Road in Lexington, Ky.
The Farm’s glory years of the 1940’s and 1950’s were highlighted by Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948), and were marked by seven Kentucky Derby winners in a 17-year stretch. The Farm passed through the Wright family up through the 1960s and into the 1970s where its most famous sire Alydar made history by finishing second in all three of the Triple Crown races in 1978. It was certainly a return to glory for a farm that is brimming with racing history.
Just as Calumet proved they weren’t done, Oxbow’s jockey is ready to keep it going. Stevens showed some of that old school bravado in the post-race press conference when the topic of the Belmont Stakes was raised and he was ready to challenge all comers. “Anybody that wants to come and tangle with him early on, bring it on. You’re going to get in trouble if you tangle with him. That’s all I can say.”
On Old Timer’s Day, Gary Stevens hit it out of the park.
Gene Kershner,a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets@EquiSpace.