Preakness day, one year ago, found me in Ireland. While the Preakness and its outcome still mattered, an ocean and multiple time zones separated us from a warm May afternoon in Maryland, where women wore sundresses even as we bundled up in sweaters and watched the day rapidly come to an end.
It seemed a bit more fitting, to me at least, that this day resonated with the excitement of Europe’s – and perhaps, the world’s – best horse. Our day’s activities concluded just in time to watch the broadcast of Frankel dominating the field in the JLT Lockinge Stakes. He was merely a stone’s throw away, and the focus of the Irish racing papers as well. This Preakness day seemed to be Frankel’s day, my first glimpses, in real time, of the crowds he drew and the brilliance he displayed time and again.
Later, we did manage to pick up the Preakness signal across the Atlantic, and my companions burst into excited celebrations when I’ll Have Another captured the second leg of the Triple Crown. I’d like to see another Triple Crown winner as much as anyone, but the long drought and the string of misses have tempered that excitement somewhat. Not the hope, though. Like most people who follow or work in racing, I thrive on hopes and dreams. It’s just, as the years pass, some of those hopes and dreams are a bit more grounded by reality. And the reality of that day was I had already seen the transcendent racehorse, and with all due respect to I’ll Have Another, that horse was not in the U.S. that day.
Fast forward to about a year later. A late night at work meant I was still watching the Preakness as darkness gathered. But it was different, back on U.S. soil, in the room where racing photos adorned the walls. They bore witness to the dreams come true in racing that had especially captivated me.
Orb’s story had certainly been one of these. It’s like the perfect racing fairytale come true: the horse that finally gives his connections the Derby trophy, after over half a century of breeding top racehorses. Then all that remains is the coronation, for Orb to become the newest Triple Crown winner. It seemed plausible, if still a touch improbable. I wavered, 50-50, on whether the Preakness was in his grasp. The evening at work seemed interminable. I wanted to know.
Finally home, I watched the whole telecast, instead of skipping to the end.
Two weeks ago, standing in pouring rain near the famed Twin Spires, I cheered for Gary Stevens and Oxbow. It looked as though the race was theirs for the taking. Yet the Derby glory was all for Orb, the racing dynasty that bred him, and the humble talented man who trained him. Seeing that Oxbow no longer had a chance, I felt no division of loyalty in suddenly cheering on Orb. It was still a dream realized, the classic storybook ending, perhaps.
Back to this year’s Preakness…. I half-expected Orb and red-hot Rosario to prevail, even knowing race strategy and post position could dictate otherwise. That appears to be what happened.
Oxbow again looked to have the race in command, as with the Derby. I held my breath to see if he’d falter. Sure, the distance was shorter, but he’d led the whole way. But he and Stevens took off this time and never looked back.
There was disappointment that no Triple Crown is on the line among many watching, I’m sure. But this was a great race and proved there are many ways to see a storybook ending.
Orb had his in the Derby.
Now it was Oxbow and Stevens’ turn. Against the odds, the comeback king toppled Rosario. His smile nearing the wire said it all: elation tinged by a bit of disbelief, perhaps. I too was astounded and elated that he got another classic win, just months into his return to the saddle. It’s what I love about this sport: the improbable becomes possible, often in the most thrilling fashion.
Yes, it halted a Triple Crown run, but congratulations to Oxbow and all his connections for a thrilling Preakness renewal. And kudos to Gary Stevens, for showing where the perseverance to follow your dreams can take you…. like to a Preakness winner’s circle once more draped in black-eyed Susans. He said it best a little while back, that following those dreams means never having to wonder what if. Orb’s loss notwithstanding, this is a great moment for racing.
We know the improbable is not impossible; when the time is right, then the Triple Crown dream will be written into reality. It’s a dream worth waiting for.