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Hope Wiped Out, Hope Springs Eternal

As I wait for my thoughts to coalesce after a dispiriting Preakness, here are some scattered notes and emotions:

-Horse racing is an unfair sport. In no other sport does so much rest on the luck of the draw. It matters what post you get, it matters what part of the track is fast, it matters who's to your left and who's to your right, and it matters who else is in the field. The bottom line, exiting the Preakness, is that Orb wasn't the horse we wanted him to be -- the great ones have the power to overcome adversity. At the same time, however, it's hard to ignore how certain immutable circumstances -- his post, the slowness of the inner-track, the meandering pace of the field -- affected him, and all of our hopes. 

-Ironically, had there been better horses in the field, Orb might have won. In the days leading up to the Preakness, commentators salivated over the fact that a lot of Orb's biggest potential challengers were dropping out -- Normandy Invasion, Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Golden Soul. But the fact of the matter is that the inclusion of these horses might have helped Orb -- better horses in the field might have spread it out, as different colts made their moves, giving Orb some room to run. As it stood, the group was such a bunch of plodders that they were content running in a slow, tight pack from beginning to end. 

-What the heck happened to Goldencents? If a time traveler told me one week ago that the Preakness would be run in fractions of 23.94/48.60/1:13.26, and that Orb wouldn't win, I would've assumed that Goldencents had won by seven lengths. Yet even though the race set up perfectly for him, he completely pooped out -- unable to keep up with the previously unremarkable Oxbow. The writing was on the wall throughout the week with the Doug O'Neill camp, as the trainer changed strategies with his workout routine four days before the race. But still, this was a surprising result for a horse who so many expected to be capable.  

-Racing still has very big, very definable, and very fixable problems. William C. Rhoden, of the New York Times, wrote a couple of columns this week that were absolutely terrific. The latest, titled "A Sport Less in Need of a Strong Runner Than a Strong Voice," could not be put any better. A national commissioner is absolutely essential for the sport, and is one of several commonsense measures that could legitimately help a sport whose problems are more constructed than inherent. Other key reforms: transparency, accountability, and viable plans for horses after racing.

-The laws of probability are still on our side. The 2000s, though lacking in Triple Crown champions, still produced a number of remarkable horses: Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Barbaro, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Curlin. The 2010s, by comparison, have yet to measure up. If you believe in things tending to average out, then we're in for some good ones. Of course, the laws of probability also tell us that one year has no direct effect on the next. The disappointment of Orb has no lasting power. We have every reason to believe in next year, as ever.

Jamie Berk

This is part of a series, Dispatches from the Triple Crown. Read the initial feature, "Whispers in the Shade of Roses," hereFor additional columns and vignettes, click here

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