Shug McGaughey isn't one to be afflicted with Derby Fever, but the Hall of Fame trainer admits that he's excited about the prospect of running Grade 2 Fountain of Youth victor Orb in the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
"Like I said after the Fountain of Youth, I wake up every morning thinking of winning the Kentucky Derby. I wish I'd won it a long time ago so I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore," McGaughey said Thursday morning.
"The reason I don't get Derby Fever is that I want to take the right horse. Maybe I made a mistake or two not taking them, but I really can't look back and say that I did. I'm looking forward to the experience. I'm looking forward to two Saturdays from now."
Orb, who has likely earned enough qualifying points (50) in the Fountain of Youth to make it into the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, is training for a start in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 30. The son of Malibu Moon, who breezed a half-mile on Monday at Payson Park in :48 2/5 (second fastest of 16 recorded at the distance), will seek his fourth straight victory (third at Gulfstream) in the Florida Derby.
"Not that I didn't think that he had a chance to be a decent horse, but it's just how quick he's become a decent horse," McGaughey said. "After he broke his maiden, he just put it all together. Winning and growing up and getting his gate experience behind him, it just sort of mentally came together."
After breaking his maiden at Aqueduct on November 24 in his fourth start, Orb captured a 1 1/8-mile allowance, followed by his half-length upset over heavily favored Violence in the Fountain of Youth on February. 23.
McGaughey had a similar experience of a three-year-old suddenly coming into its own at Gulfstream Park in 1997.
"I had a filly one time who had finished second and third in stakes as a two-year-old and when I put blinkers on her and brought her down here, she won everything she ran in," McGaughey said.
Glitter Woman captured the Grade 3 Forward Gal, Grade 3 Davona Dale and the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream before capturing the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland.
McGaughey has saddled only six horses for starts in the Derby since 1984 and none since 2002, when Saarland finished 10th. Easy Goer finished second behind Sunday Silence in both the Derby and Preakness before winning the Belmont in 1989.