Excitement builds for Orb, Preakness

As soon as Kentucky Derby favorite Orb crossed the finish line first at Churchill Downs, the banter began: Is this the colt that finally could end the Triple Crown drought?

Horse racing’s Triple Crown consists of wins in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. It last was won by Affirmed in 1978. Many horses have won two out of the three races since, but like ballplayers chasing Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, it remains an elusive Holy Grail.

Racing fans were frustrated to no end last year when I’ll Have Another won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then was scratched on the eve of the Belmont after suffering a career-ending injury.

From 1997 to 2008, seven horses won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. These 3-year-olds — Big Brown (2008), Smarty Jones (2004), Funny Cide (2003), War Emblem (2002), Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997) — all lost in the Belmont.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The Preakness is on May 18, and Orb hasn’t won it yet.

A dozen horses are probable for the Preakness at Pimlico. Eight are exiting the Derby, and four are fresh newcomers. Historically, the Derby horses are the ones Orb must fear the most. However, it could be different this year.

Departing won the Illinois Derby last out and four of five races lifetime. Many, though, will point to his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. The Fair Grounds race produced three top Derby finishers in Golden Soul (second), Revolutionary (third) and Mylute (fifth).

Another new shooter is Governor Charlie from trainer Bob Baffert. He won the Sunland Derby by five widening lengths. And before you pooh-pooh the Sunland Derby, remember that 2009 Derby winner Mine That Bird exited that race.

Here are a few notes from the Derby to keep in mind moving forward:

■ Will Take Charge figures to be a wiseguy horse in the Preakness for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. In the Derby, he was rallying with Orb before a tiring Verrazano drifted into his path. He’ll have a new rider in Mike Smith.

■ Visually it appeared that Orb was flying down the stretch to win the Derby. In reality, his final quarter-mile was run in a modest 26 1/5 seconds. That means he was grinding past tired horses who were backing up through the field.

■ Normandy Invasion made a huge middle move to gain the lead at the top of the stretch. He flattened out late to finish fourth. I believe jockey Javier Castellano might have moved a couple of beats too soon. Others will dispute that.

■ Finally, when a horse gets destroyed in the Derby, his connections normally bypass the Preakness and await the Belmont or point to an easier stakes. Not so this year. Itsmyluckyday (15th), Goldencents (17th) and Vyjack (18th) all are running back at Pimlico.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.