My day began with my phone’s alarm buzzing me awake at 4:30 a.m. – Orb was due out on the Pimlico Race Course track at six, and I wanted to be there to see how he handled his new environment after his magnificent final breeze at Belmont Park on Monday.
I rolled out of bed, and bada-bing, bada-boom I was in a taxi bound for the racetrack by 5 a.m.
When I arrived at Pimlico, there were already several other reporters and photographers grouped around Orb’s barn in the semi-dark chill of the predawn morning, waiting to see the Kentucky Derby winner hit the track.
We didn’t have long to wait, and Orb emerged from his stall looking bright and chipper with his regular rider Jenn Patterson aboard.
The two headed out to the track, accompanied by the stable pony Well Well, to begin their jog once around the oval. (As an aside, my trusty little Nikon hasn’t really recovered from the Kentucky Derby deluge, so please excuse any fuzziness in the photos – the poor little thing has had a rough Triple Crown season already!)
As the pair made their way to the grandstand, Orb looked relaxed and happy to be back in the swing of things.
And he wasn’t the only Preakness horse on the track at that time; Kentucky Derby sixth-place finisher Oxbow was also taking a lap, and he looked very strong and ready to go.
As Orb and Oxbow headed back to their respective barns, the sun was just beginning to fully rise over Pimlico, casting the entire track in a beautiful purple light.
Since the Preakness contenders were heading to the stable area, we decided to follow them. Imagine my delight upon finding these Clydesdales here to perform on Friday and Saturday for the festivities!
Of course, I had to ask to have my photo taken with one of them. This is Pappy; he’s 19 hands high (a hand is how horses are measured; it’s four inches, because horse people like to be as confusing as possible with their terminology.) This means that Pappy here is 6’4” tall at the highest point of his back – pretty big!
I obviously fell deeply in love and immediately started trying to figure out the logistics of keeping him in my miniscule studio apartment. Not good. Not good at all.
After being delightfully distracted by these gentle giants, I remembered that I was here for the Preakness, so I went to see how the contenders were enjoying their morning.
I found Oxbow, the horse that was taking his morning exercise at the same time as Orb, relaxing outside of his barn. That’s one of the great things about Pimlico: despite being smack dab in the middle of a city, there’s plenty of room for the horses to get outside to enjoy the sunshine and snack on the grass.
His stablemate Will Take Charge was getting his bath at the same time; he’s such a pretty horse, and to me he looks like a child’s pony with all of the white on his legs and face and the way that his forelock (that little tuft of hair that falls between his eyes) is all fluffy. Of course, in reality, he is a very powerful racehorse, but there’s something about him that just makes me go, ‘squee.’
Next, I saw Itsmyluckyday heading to the track to take his turn at stretching his legs. He’s a very handsome horse, and one that caught my eye at the Kentucky Derby, too. I was surprised by how far back he finished in that race, and the Preakness might be a whole different story for him.
By that time, the sun was fully up, and the view from the Pimlico press box was simply stunning.
After that, I headed back down to the barn area, since Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey, was holding a press conference to discuss how his prized colt was settling in to his new digs at Pimlico. He said that Orb is doing well and seems really happy here; and then McGaughey fielded some other questions from the press. My favorite was when a reporter asked why everyone called him Shug, since his name is Claude. Shug answered that he’s the third Claude in his family, so they had to call him something but he has no idea where the name Shug came from. He did assure us that it wasn’t short for “Sugar,” though!
Once the press conference wrapped up, it was time for Orb to school in the paddock. This is a training session meant to get the colt used to the place where he’ll have the saddle placed on his back right before the Preakness in a setting that’s quieter and less intimidating than race day. Orb pranced over to the paddock like the champ that he is with his team in tow.
Once he was in the paddock, he settled in nicely; the only hiccup came when a cart rolling by rumbled loudly, causing him to become a bit startled and causing a piece of his equipment, a boot protecting his hoof, to be dislodged. His exercise rider, Jenn, was right there to settle him down with soft words and pats while Shug bent down to readjust Orb’s boot.
After that, Orb was a perfect gentleman, but Shug and Jenn kept a watchful eye on him just in case.
The whole team headed back to the barn, where Orb grabbed a snack on the lush grass and begged for attention from Jenn.
He also used her as a scratching post, nearly knocking her over. It was all in good fun, and he clearly is really attached to her.
He also made an attempt to eat the potted plant hanging from the fence, but Jenn convinced him otherwise.
After that, I hoofed it to the Pimlico press box to get a little work done. This will not be part of the photoblog, since I don’t think there’s any way to make frantic typing for eight hours visually appealing, so we’ll just skip ahead to the good part! After lots of work was behind me, I looked up and realized that it was time for the Preakness Stakes draw – the ceremony surrounding the act of assigning post position numbers to each horse running in the race.
Pimlico really goes all-out for the draw, providing amazing food and hospitality for the owners, trainers, jockeys, family, friends and media in attendance. Here’s a sampling of what was offered:
There were tons of people in attendance, reveling in the pre-Preakness festival atmosphere and eagerly anticipating the draw.
I also ran into Ms. Racing Queen, Tatiana Schoeppler, who was thrilled to be at her first Triple Crown race. She’s super cool, and her job is to help introduce as many new fans to the best sport ever as possible – definitely a mission I can get behind!
Pimlico also brought out the Woodlawn Vase, the trophy for the Preakness Stakes. It’s incredibly beautiful in person, and it was a thrill to be able to get so close to it.
It was an honor and a privilege to see the connections of Secretariat, jockey Ron Turcotte and owner Penny Chenery, at the draw as well. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 40 years since Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory, and remembering his races still puts goosebumps on my arms.
Then it was draw time! As horses were assigned their post positions and their connections either cheered or lamented their fate, Orb’s name still hadn’t been called. Then it happened: he was assigned post position one. This is viewed as a bad thing – the inside post can mean that a horse might be bumped or has to really hustle out of the gate to gain a good position going into the first turn.
An audible groan went up from the crowd, including some from the press corps. Trainer Shug McGaughey was stoic about the draw, though, saying, “Well, he won the Fountain of Youth (Stakes) from the one. His first race was from the 1 and he finished third in a very good race. Obviously, if I was going to pick it out, I wouldn’t have picked the one, but with only nine horses 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.”
It’s a great attitude to take in the face of less-than-fabulous luck, and hopefully post positions won’t affect Orb or any or any other horses in the race.
With that, the draw was over and the field was set for the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes. It makes Saturday’s race feel that much closer, and I for one can’t wait!
Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back with lots more tomorrow as we continue the countdown to the Preakness.