All eyes will be on Orb Saturday afternoon when the Kentucky Derby champion takes his post at the Preakness Stakes, aiming to win the second leg of the elusive Triple Crown.
The colt's resounding victory at the Derby, marked by a surge of power in the final stretch, has fueled hopes for the first Triple Crown triumph since 1978, when Affirmed won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Orb, the even-money favorite at Pimlico, will either dash those hopes or move one step closer to the coveted crown.
For fans hoping to see the first Triple Crown in decades, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. In the Derby, on May 4, Orb handily beat five of the eight horses he will take on in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes. Since then, his performance in training has earned stellar reviews.
Hall of Fame trainer Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey called Orb's workout at Belmont earlier this week "breathtaking," "spectacular" and even better than his performance leading up to the Derby, according to the Associated Press. The colt ran four furlongs in 47.18 seconds and five furlongs in 59.54.
But the widespread optimism was dampened just days later when Orb drew the rail, or No. 1 post—a position that has launched only two Preakness victors since 1950. Running from that position, other horses could crowd Orb against the rail, making it difficult for Orb to find room to maneuver to the head of the pack.
"Obviously, if I was going to pick it out, I wouldn't have picked the 1," McGaughey told the AP when the positions were drawn. "But with only nine horse in there to run a mile and three-sixteenths, with a rider like Joel (Rosario), he's going to figure out what to do. He'll have him in the right spot."
The shorter race could also favor some of the horses that faded at the end of the mile-and-a-quarter Derby. Goldencents—partially owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino— was one of the favorites heading into the Kentucky Derby, but finished 17th in a field of 19 horses. That performance hasn't deterred bettors from putting their money on the colt in the Preakness. Heading into the race he's among the four favorites, with 8-1 morning line odds.
Mylute, who has 5-1 odds after placing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, is another Preakness favorite. The horse will be ridden by rising star Rosie Napravnik, who will be the third female jockey ever to compete in the Preakness Stakes. She heads into the weekend with more wins than any other jockey posting for the race, besides Joel Rosario, who will be riding Orb.
Departing, who skipped the Derby, could also pose a threat to the even-money favorite. The horse arrives at Pimlico with four wins this year, including a big victory two weeks ago at the Illinois Derby, where he managed to pull ahead of the pack and finish by 3 1/4 lengths.
Govenor Charlie, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, and Titletown Five, co-owned by Packers Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, will also make their Triple Crown debuts in the second leg of the contest.
Govenor Charlie, who descends from the 1998 Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, has 12-1 odds, while Titletown Five is a much longer shot. Despite his 30-1 odds, Titletown Five's trainer D. Wayne Lukas still has a decent chance to taste victory. The Hall of Fame trainer has two other horses in the race— Oxbow and Will Take Charge.
The $1 million race begins at 6:20 p.m. and will be streamed live on NBC Live Extra beginning at 4:30 p.m.
If Orb wins, he'll race for the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 8. Twenty-two horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but only 11 have won all three.