Racing: Oxbow hits the bullseye

Legendary trainer and veteran hoop combine to lead all the way in Preakness.

Oxbow leads the field home to win the Preakness Stakes yesterday. Photo / AP
Oxbow leads the field home to win the Preakness Stakes yesterday. Photo / AP

America's Triple Crown dreams will have to be put on ice for at least another 12 months after Kentucky Derby winner Orb could finish only a dull fourth in the Preakness Stakes, in which comeback jockey Gary Stevens landed a remarkable wire-to-wire victory on Oxbow for legendary trainer D Wayne Lukas.

Stevens, 50, returned to the saddle only in January after seven years' retirement. Now five months later, he has claimed the middle leg of the Triple Crown for his old sparring partner Lukas, himself back in the spotlight after a spell in the wilderness as he collected his sixth Preakness at Pimlico yesterday.

Sent off a 15-1 shot, Oxbow was responsible for Lukas's 14th victory in a Triple Crown race, but his first since the Belmont of 2000, reports the Racing Post.

The son of Awesome Again, only sixth behind Orb in the Kentucky Derby, made all the running before beating Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, with Orb labouring down the stretch for fourth.

Much of the credit for the victory must go to Stevens, who was completing a graded-stakes double for Lukas and Oxbow's owners, the Calumet Farm operation of Brad Kelley, after a similar all-the-way win on outsider Skyring in the grade two Dixie Stakes on turf.

In the main event, Stevens sent Oxbow to the front ahead of Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents as they passed the stands first time and then managed to set tepid fractions - despite a seeming abundance of pace among his eight rivals. Orb was settled in midpack on the rails from his inside draw, which may have been more detrimental to his chances than expected as Pimlico appeared to have a dead strip on the inner.

Stevens masterfully moved Oxbow a couple of lanes out from the rail throughout, controlling the speed through easy splits of 23.94, 48.60 and 1:13.26 which allowed him to keep more than enough in reserve to go clear as they exited the far turn.

"When we hit the half-mile pole, I said, 'Are you kidding me? Is this happening'?" Stevens told NBC.

"The race was over at that point. I just walked the dog to the half-mile pole."

Itsmyluckyday and Mylute gave vain pursuit, but neither looked like catching Oxbow, who powered home by a length and three-quarters with a half-length separating second and third. The final time of 1:57.54 was the slowest since Carry Back in 1961.

- NZ Herald

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