Shug McGaughey made the trip to Payson Park Sunday morning to check on Orb, who was rather bright for a late-developing colt who had just outrun nine rivals to win the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park late Saturday afternoon.
“I'm kind of surprised how well he bounced out of his race, to tell you the truth,” McGaughey said.
With his impressive 2 ¾-length victory in Gulfstream's signature race, Orb climbed to the very top of Churchill Downs' Road to the Kentucky Derby leader board, which for the first time is based on a points system instead of graded earnings. The Florida Derby was worth 100 points to the winner, giving Orb a total of 150 points, including the 50 points he collected with his triumph in the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 23.
Orb came to South Florida fresh off a maiden victory at Aqueduct in November and surprised his trainer with his rapid development. After winning an allowance race at the Florida Derby distance of 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 26, the son of Malibu Moon narrowly beat previously undefeated Violence in the Fountain of Youth. A return to 1 1/8 miles in the Florida Derby produced a powerhouse triumph in going-away fashion.
“I think he's the kind of horse that's probably better the farther they get,” McGaughey said.
The 62-year-old native Kentuckian, who isn't overly concerned about the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, has started only six horses in the Kentucky Derby and only one, Saarland (10th in 2002), since saddling Easy Goer for a second-place finish behind Sunday Silence in 1989.
Orb was bred and is owned by McGaughey's longtime clients, Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable.
“It's about them and the horse, and not about me, as far as I'm concerned,” McGaughey said. “I'm glad they're able to do it together. It makes it all that much better.”
The Orb team, however, isn't totally set for the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Jockey John Velazquez has not committed to Orb for the Run for the Roses and is slated to ride undefeated Verrazano in next Saturday's Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct. Depending on the outcome of the Wood, McGaughey may have to look for another jockey to ride Orb in the Derby.
“We're going to have to wait until next week. It's not a problem. I knew going in,” said McGaughey, knowing he'll have no problem finding a prominent jockey to accept the Derby mount aboard Orb.
McGaughey's stable is in the process of shipping to Kentucky for the upcoming Keeneland meeting, but Orb will linger at Payson Park for a while.
“He's going to be at Payson Park for at least a week,” McGaughey said.
Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Sunday morning that Shanghai Bobby came out of this fifth-place finish in the Florida Derby in good order. The 2012 juvenile champion has only 26 points and likely would need more points to qualify for the Derby.
Florida Derby Runner-Up Itsmyluckyday '110 Percent'
Trilogy Stables and Laurie Plesa's Itsmyluckyday was “110 percent” Sunday morning back in his stall in trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr.s' Calder barn following his game runner-up effort as the 17-to-10 favorite under jockey Elvis Trujillo in Saturday's $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby.
“I really wanted to win the Florida Derby,” said Plesa. “It would have meant so much to me and the other owners, but I was very pleased with his race and Orb was the best horse Saturday. As important as Saturday's race was to us, it wasn't the ultimate goal.
“I had my reasons to give him the 60-plus days between the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby and I still wouldn't change anything with having made that decision. It may have made some difference in how he ran Saturday, but it was just a stepping stone. I believe he has the points (50) to get into the (Kentucky) Derby. I haven't thought a lot about when we'll take him up there (Churchill Downs), but I'd imagine probably about a week before.”
A son of Lawyer Ron, Itsmyluckyday was making his fourth start of the Gulfstream meet in the Florida Derby. He finished an even fourth on turf in the Dania Beach Stakes on Dec. 15, won the Gulfstream Park Derby by 6 ¾ lengths on New Year's Day and scored his biggest victory in the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) on Jan. 26, defeating previously undefeated 2012 Eclipse champion 2-year-old Shanghai Bobby.
Florida Derby Run Opens Options for Merit Man
Bruce Chandler, Robert McKee and James Glavin's Merit Man carried his speed a lot farther than his 29-to-1 odds would have suggested in the Besilu Stables Florida Derby as he finished a clear third behind Orb and Itsmyluckyday in his first ever start beyond seven furlongs for trainer Bob Hess, Jr. He was beaten five lengths for it all in the 1 1/8 miles test.
“He's great this morning,” said Hess Sunday from his Gulfstream barn. “I'm really proud of him. He got beat by two very good horses. He had a good winter here and he will go to New York from here. There are a number of options we'll consider like the Peter Pan, which is a one-turn, mile-and-an-eighth at Belmont Park, the Woody Stephens, or even the Preakness could be a possibility.”
A Florida-bred by With Distinction, Merit Man had run twice at the meet prior to the good effort in the Florida Derby, winning the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes on New Year's Day and finishing fourth in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (G2) on Feb. 2. Hess suggested that attempting to rate the colt in the Hutcheson was likely a mistake.
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