Orb’s Triple Crown Bubble Bust Reveals Error: David PapadopoulosDavid Papadopoulos
Orb mania sucked us all in.
In the two weeks following his Kentucky Derby romp, we elevated him to the status of invincible superhorse, some never-before-seen combination of Secretariat, Citation and Man o’ War.
His victory in the Preakness Stakes, we told ourselves, was pre-ordained by the racing gods, who were desirous of seeing the first Triple Crown winner in 35 years. The running of the race was to be a mere formality, a walkover in which Orb would roll by his pathetically inferior rivals whenever his rider pleased.
The superhorse even baited me, a handicapper whose modus operandi is to seek out and bet against overbet, overhyped types. I was so fearful, so respectful of the Derby winner that I dedicated half my budget to exotic wagers that were predicated on Orb coming in first. The public placed 48 percent of all money in the win pool on him, driving his projected payout down to just $0.70 for each $1 bet. All eight of his Preakness rivals offered returns that were at least 12 times greater.
The bubble burst at about 6:22 p.m. on May 18 in Baltimore.
The mighty Orb never threatened the leaders at any point en route to a dull fourth-place finish. He barely managed to eke past my top pick, Departing, who did everything wrong, misbehaving in the saddling area before the race and stumbling at the start. Some nine lengths ahead of them, Oxbow sailed home first at odds of 15-1. There will be no Triple Crown on the line when they run the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
An autopsy of Orb’s defeat, which snapped a five-race win streak, would turn up no shortage of possible explanations: he was stuck inside all race after starting next to the rail, failing to get to the outside position he covets; the pace dynamics were the opposite of those in the Derby, when the frontrunners sprinted themselves into exhaustion and set the race up for Orb’s closing kick; the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness may not have been enough time for him to recover from a career-best effort in Louisville.
And then there’s the dreaded possibility that our superhorse may just not be that much better than the rest in this crop of three-year-olds.
But we knew all those questions existed before the Preakness, didn’t we? The outcome reveals more about us, and our flaws, our weaknesses, than it does about the horse.
When we told ourselves that the racing gods craved to see the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, what we meant to say is that we wanted it.
And as an expression of that desire, we would blindly back the horse at the betting windows, helping create the Great Triple Crown Bubble of 2013, which looked a lot like those of 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008.
We fell for it again.
I am setting up a timed reminder that will hit my inbox on May 15 of every year for the next 50 years. I will put it all in capital letters so that I can’t possibly miss it.
DO NOT BET ONE CENT ON THE OVERHYPED DERBY WINNER.
I recommend you do the same.
(David Papadopoulos, the team leader for Latin America markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)