By Dick Downey
Photo by Leslie Martin
With a win in the Grade I Besilu Stables Florida Derby, Orb did what trainer Shug McGaughey hoped he'd do, and that's take him a step closer to the Kentucky Derby.
In the week leading up to the race, the trainer said it didn't matter as much whether Orb won, but rather the type of race he ran would be important. After the race, McGaughey said that they are Derby-bound as long as everything is well for his colt.
Orb's race was not a deep-closing effort like his victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, but rather a stalking one. He and John Velazquez initially set up a couple of lengths behind the pace set by Merit Man, who was pressed by Narvaez. Itsmyluckyday was tracking those two outside of two-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby, who was on the rail after breaking from post 1. Merit Man and Narvaez went the first quarter-mile in :24.74 and the half in :48.56, and at the second call Orb was in fifth position, four lengths from the front.
Merit Man and Kent Desormeaux still led after six furlongs in 1:12.89, but Itsmyluckyday was getting closer. With a mile booked in 1:37.70, Itsmyluckyday was on the lead. But Orb was not to be denied. After circling four wide on the second turn, he caught Itsmyluckyday, the 8-5 post time favorite, inside the furlong marker.
Orb separated himself from Itsmyluckyday to prevail by 2 3/4 lengths. Merit Man and Narvaez, both making their two-turn debuts, stayed on for third and fourth, beaten five lengths and 10 lengths, respectively. Shanghai Bobby finished fifth, 3/4 length behind Narvaez.
Those five were followed across the wire by Pick of the Litter, Frac Daddy, Are You Kidding Me, Indy's Illusion and the maiden Pontiff.
Orb was timed in 1:50.87.That was almost two seconds slower than Dreaming of Julia's 1:48.97 in the Grade II Gulfstream Oaks earlier on the card. She won by 21 3/4 lengths and is bound for the Kentucky Oaks.
Orb paid $7.80 to win, $3.80 to place and $3.40 to show as the 5-2 third choice at post time. From the $1 million purse, Orb took home $600,000.
It was McGauhey's first Florida Derby win, and it was the fourth straight win for Orb. He broke his maiden in his fourth start on Nov. 24 going a mile at Aqueduct.He was shipped to Florida and won an allowance at the Florida Derby distance on Jan. 26. That was followed up with the victory in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23.
Earlier this week, McGaughey was asked about the Kentucky Derby. "Like I said after the Fountain of Youth, I wake up every morning thinking of winning the Kentucky Derby," he said. "I wish I'd won it a long time ago so I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore." Still, McGaughey doesn't get Derby favor, he said, because he only wants to take the right kind of horse.
His last Derby starter was 11 years ago. Things have changed. Orb picked up 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, pushing his total to 150, and he's at the head of the class.
Itsmyluckyday picked up 40 points, making his total 50, enough to make the Derby. Merit Man, who got 20 points, won't proceed on the Derby Trail, according to his trainer, Bob Hess -- who wouldn't rule out a run in the Preakness Stakes. Narvaez got 10 points for finishing fourth. It is unlikely Shanghai Bobby will be seen in the Kentucky Derby. He had 24 going into the Florida Derby, and he has 24 now.
Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable LLC bred and own Orb, a son of Malibu Moon. He's out of Lady Liberty, by Unbridled, and was foaled in Kentucky on Feb, 24, 2010.
Janney and McGaughey bypassed the Kentucky Derby with Caronado's Quest over a decade ago because of the colt's behavioral problems. They now have a horse that is leading them down the right road to the Kentucky Derby.
Shug McGaughey: “I’m pretty excited about the first Florida Derby I’ve ever won. I’m just glad to see the horse take another step, and we’ll go from there. Johnny did a good job getting him in position. I got a little nervous on the turn when it looked like he backed up a little bit, but he switched on his right lead and came with his run. I do think he beat a nice horse that finished second.
“From the Fountain of Youth to now, he’s a different horse, physically and coat-wise. Hopefully, he’ll keep going forward. It’s really exciting. I’d never won the Fountain of Youth, and now to win the Florida Derby, it’s exciting. I’m happy for all the people who have put so much work into it. I’m just tickled to death for the Janneys and the Phippses than I am for myself. It’s a big thrill for me.
“The Derby is my dream, but we never tried to overdo it. Hopefully, this is the one who can take us there.
"He trained fairly sharp, and I told my son in the paddock, I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks OK and he won't be as far back. Now I didn't know they were going to go 24 and change either. So I wasn't too surprised where he was. The one thing you don't know is if it will take away from the run or not and, obviously, it didn't.
"I never wanted to run the wrong kind of horse because I know what the consequences would be. We're trying to set up to have horses that will run later on and keep going, so I've learned if you press on too early, maybe something will happen where they don't make it or they'll peak too soon. When I ran this horse the first time in September I didn't believe he would be a Derby horse, but we were hoping that somewhere along the line, one of the colts would go through the development stage and take us there, as we do every year."
John Velazquez: "The first jump from the gate wasn't very good so I had to kind of ask him to get into the game in the first turn. Trujillo (Itsmyluckyday) started coming out on the first turn..I let him out. I thought he was the horse to beat. So I followed him. I was right behind him. I wasn't too far from him. About the half-mile pole I said, 'I'm going to put a little pressure on him,' because it looked like he was going a little too easy. I got to him, we started moving together. At the three-eighths pole I showed the whip to my horse, and he kind of went to get him a little too soon. So I kind of sat against the horse. The reason I wanted to do that was I didn't want to get ahead way too soon in the race and then he'd be waiting. Once we did that, and I asked him, he responded right away. It was impressive. Once I asked him, he was there for me, and I couldn't ask for a better feeling than that.
"Once you get him out of the paddock and on the racetrack he's beautiful, he doesn't do anything wrong on the track. I like to warm him up with the pony and then jog him by myself and take my feet out of the irons, he's perfect. I think he just feels a little crowded in the paddock and that's it. Once he's on the track, he's very good."
Velazquez said trackside after the race that Orb "definitely" has what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby.
Stuart Janney III (owner-breeder – Orb): Obviously, he is very calm, although he has shown some signs of a horse I had here some years ago (Coronado’s Quest). With him, you got the feeling you were trying to disarm a nuclear device. (Orb) acted up just a little, and I had a brief panic attack, but after he was saddled he was calm. He seems to be a horse that could take us there with his temperament and style.
"You know, you can be in this game so many different ways. You can buy them or, like I do, try to breed them. I was very lucky a lot of years ago to take over some very good bloodlines from my parents. And this was particularly a bloodline that was their best. So I feel a great sense of pride that we've been able to produce some very good horses out of this particular line because it goes back through my parents to my grandmother. And it's a lot of fun, frankly, to run this horse with Dinny Phipps. His father was...very special. I really wasn't necessarily going to get into the game. He came to me and said, 'I'll be your partner. I'd like it if Shug trains the horses we own together.'And for me it was wonderful because, first of all, I enjoy doing it and, secondly, I got the benefit of his advice and I also got a reasonably good trainer. So to do this with the extended members of my family is also a wonderful aspect of this."
(Note: Coronado’s Quest finished second in the 1998 Hutcheson Stakes and Fountain of Youth Stakes before a fifth-place finish in the Florida Derby.)
Trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. (Itsmyluckyday) – “I expected him to win, and he didn’t. Am I disappointed? Yes, but I’m also very proud of him too. He’s done everything we’ve asked. I’ll be fine going to bed tonight with what he did. He won $200,000 today and $600,000 altogether.
“He ran his race. He just got outrun. The winner ran a fantastic race. We finished second, and that’s good enough to get to the Derby, which was our goal. I thought we were sitting in pretty good position and moved for the lead on the far turn, but Orb just outkicked him.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher (Shanghai Bobby): "We got crowded going into the first turn with everyone going for the same spot. It got a little rough going into the first turn. He was always kind of stuck on the inside with everyone jockeying for the same position. He seemed to be in a tough spot all the way around. Rosie said he just never really relaxed in that scenario. We’ll see how he comes out of it before making any decisions for the future.”
Trainer Bob Hess (Merit Man): "He ran a super race and got a Hall of Fame ride from Kent Desormeaux but just got beat. I'm super proud of him. I have a lot of options, just not Kentucky Derby options."
Trainer Barclay Tagg (Indy's Illusion): "I was hoping he wouldn't wash out like that. He fell apart before the race and had nothing left."