Is This Orb’s Time to Shine?

Associated Press
The aura of Orb.

As anyone who reads the Daily Fix’s annual NFL picks can attest, sports betting is rarely an easy or logical task. Your two Fixers this year were each beat by a lifeless Turkish coin, so we can tell you how difficult it is to find convergent motive, narrative, statistical justification and intangible in the barrage of data on any particular event. Betting on horse racing is even more up in the air, with the short race lengths and the unknowability of the horse’s mental and physical interior—hey, maybe he just wants to eat carrots—contributing to the subtextual shrug accompanying each guess of how the Preakness will play out. Orb, who won the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, is the even-money favorite to control Saturday’s race due to his championship pedigree and his unbeaten 2013 record. Still, there’s plenty of reason to be cautious—to expect that if something random can happen, it will.

Quotes from any other owner or jockey reveal a placid fear of what Orb, who was named after a synonym for the moon, might be able to accomplish. That’s because if he takes the Preakness he’ll become the newest horse to be draped in Triple Crown expectations before the Belmont Stakes, chasing an honor that hasn’t been won since 1978. “The Kentucky Derby is part of Americana, the sun around which every racing year orbits, the reliable stage upon which a star is born,” Paul Moran writes for ESPN. “The Belmont Stakes can be the toughest ticket in New York or an afterthought. It is the Preakness that dictates whether the third leg of the Triple Crown is couched in high drama or drowned out by a yawn, the portal from history to potential immortality.” In fact, it was just last year when I’ll Have Another took the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, raising expectations before retiring due to injury. But Orb grew up training at Belmont Park, where the Belmont Stakes are held, and would presumably feel more comfortable racing that track than any other horse (were we able to read into the psyche of an animal). Because of this, it’s the Preakness that should scan as the most difficult leg of the Triple Crown race, as the Journal’s Pia Catton notes.

“I say this now because after Orb shines in Baltimore, everyone will declare they knew it all along. Commentators will pontificate. People will scramble for tickets to the Belmont. If you’re remotely interested, fire up your credit card and buy ‘em now,” she writes. “Which is what I say to people when they ask what Broadway show to see. Sometimes they listen. Sometimes they wind up waiting a year to see ‘The Book of Mormon.’”

Again, there’s plenty of reason to doubt an automatic Orb victory: the other horses capable of capitalizing on chance, the No. 1 post position he drew, and whatever other unknowns dictating whether a horse can race precisely the way he’s been trained at the precise moment he needs to. But if he performs as expected, the Triple Crown hype cycle will begin anew.

* * *

A frequent refrain during the 2011 NBA lockout was that owners weren’t making enough money, and that small-market teams were struggling with both competition and revenue generation. With due respect to those arguments, they seem kind of worthless in wake of the news that the Sacramento Kings, rated as one of the NBA’s most hapless, ill-managed franchises over the last few years, will be sold for a league record $535 million to stay in Sacramento rather than relocate to Seattle. Those are the Kings who finished 28-54 this season, haven’t made the playoffs in nearly a decade and seemed like a foregone conclusion to leave town until a surprisingly strong push to secure public funding for a new stadium led by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson arose the interest of a local group of buyers, who accumulated the necessary funds to make an offer. The Maloof family, reluctant in this process to keep the team in Sacramento, was finally motivated to ignore a more lucrative offer from the Seattle group after being voted down by the rest of the NBA’s owners.

When it’s officially announced, the team’s new majority owner will be software kingpin Vivek Ranadive, who will sell his partial stake in the Golden State Warriors as he gins up interest in making the Kings a recognizable global brand and not, well, the Kings. It’s a stunning turn of events considering the supposed inevitability of the SuperSonics revival and given commissioner David Stern’s well-known desire to return a team to Seattle after the Oklahoma City debacle. It’s also just part of the process to make the Kings a team worth talking about, rather than the directionless blob they’ve been. Still, the chance to see through that process is one that didn’t seem possible a few months ago—and for that, Kings fans are rightfully thrilled. “Sacramento has its fists to the sky tonight not because of one person, but because of a thousand individuals who put themselves out there for this city, this region, this team,” Tom Ziller writes for SB Nation. It’s a rare but powerful winning moment for the franchise.

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