Stuart S. Janney III & Phipps Stable's homebred Orb took advantage of a blistering pace in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth, rallying to edge Violence by a half-length in the 1 1/16-mile test at Gulfstream Park. The Shug McGaughey trainee likely secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate while making his stakes debut, earning 50 points in the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system, and John Velazquez was up on the well-bred son of Malibu Moon.
"The strides he has made this winter are just absolutely incredible," said McGaughey, who added that winning the Kentucky Derby has always been a goal. "I've been worried about it since I started rubbing horses in 1971 or 2."
Orb brought a two-race winning streak into the Fountain of Youth, breaking his maiden by a two-length margin at Aqueduct on November 24 before winning his three-year-old debut over allowance/optional claiming rivals at Gulfstream on January 26, and the late-running colt dropped back to seventh during the early stages Saturday. Majestic Hussar sprinted to the fore when the gates opened and led the way into the first turn with 3-5 favorite Violence chasing him in second through a rapid opening quarter-mile in :23.
Majestic Hussar continued to quicken leaving the first turn, completing the half-mile in an eye-popping :45 2/5, and Violence was racing up close along with Cerro and Sr. Quisqueyano. Velazquez was content to allow the action to develop up front as Orb bided his time about 10 lengths behind the pacesetter.
"There was a lot of speed and I was actually able to get right where I wanted to be," Velazquez said.
Majestic Hussar still clung to a short advantage entering the far turn, passing the six-furlong mark in 1:08 4/5, but Violence made his move approaching the stretch drive, surging past his tiring foe to take a short lead. Orb was in full flight rounding the bend, circling rivals four wide, and carried his momentum impressively into the final stages.
Violence completed a mile in 1:35 1/5 with a 1 1/2-length advantage, but Orb was coming fast to his outside and caught his rival in deep stretch. Violence dug in gamely when confronted but had to settle for second as Orb stopped the teletimer in a very respectable 1:42 1/5.
"We ended up being pretty close to a hot pace and as he tends to do, when he made the lead he kind of idles a little bit," trainer Todd Pletcher said of runner-up Violence, who sustained his first setback in his fourth career start. "His last race (a victory in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on December 15) he did kind of the same thing where he waited on horses. You could see Orb coming with that long, sustained run and I think Violence was able to dig in pretty well actually in the stretch and we just came out on the short end."
"Violence kept going a bit, but I still thought we had him," McGaughey said of the close finish.
Off as 5-1 second choice among nine opponents, Orb paid $12.80, $4 and $3.
It was a 6 3/4-length gap back to third-placer Speak Logistics, who finished two lengths better than Majestic Hussar. Next came He's Had Enough, Cerro, Sr. Quisqueyano, Joshua's Comprise and Elmutahid. Falling Sky and Sky Captain were both scratched.
Bred in Kentucky, Orb is the third and most successful foal out of the unraced Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, a daughter of the Grade 2-winning mare Mesabi Maiden. This is the female family of all-time great Ruffian; multiple Grade 1 winner Coronado's Quest; Grade 1 hero Private Terms; and, more recently, multiple Grade 1 Argentine victor Suggestive Boy, who exits a convincing win in the recent Grade 2 Arcadia at Santa Anita.
Orb improved his career mark to 6-3-0-1 and has now earned $321,050.
McGaughey, who also captured the Grade 3 Canadian Turf one race earlier with Data Link, was asked what's next for Orb.
"I don't know what the next outing will be, but we'll see and talk to the Phipps and Stuart Janney and see what they want to do and go from there," he said.