Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable's homebred Orb bided his time in midpack before moving up on the outside of the dueling Merit Man and Itsmyluckyday in the lane of Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby to take command and draw off for a 2 3/4-length win.
The Shug McGaughey trainee continued jockey John Velazquez's stellar afternoon at Gulfstream Park, handing his rider a fifth win on the day as he paid $7.80, $3.80 and $3.40 as the near 3-1 third choice.
Merit Man broke sharply and shot across the field to take up the lead on the rail from his 8 post. Narvaez, the 103-1 longshot who drew the far outside post 10, followed and managed to get his head in front through the opening quarter of :24 3/5 before Merit Man nudged his way back to the lead for the half-mile in :48 2/5 and three-quarter mark in 1:12 4/5.
Itsmyluckyday and juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby, who were the respective one-two in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, took up their rivalry once again just in behind while Orb settled a bit farther out to track the early pace.
As the field entered the turn, Orb ranged up to the outside of Itsmyluckyday, Narvaez and Merit Man while Shanghai Bobby found himself facing a wall of horses racing on the rail. Narvaez began backing up but Merit Man and Itsmyluckyday continued to battle it out, in the end to no avail as Orb slid on past to finish 1 1/8 miles on the fast dirt in 1:50 4/5.
Itsmyluckyday lost the war but won the battle with Merit Man for second, overcoming his opponent by 2 1/4 lengths as the 8-5 favorite. Merit Man was, in turn, up five lengths on Narvaez in fourth, while Shanghai Bobby tired to fifth after his early trouble. Pick of the Litter, Frac Daddy, Are You Kidding Me, Indy's Illusion and Pontiff completed the order under the wire.
Orb has now captured his last four races, beginning by breaking his maiden on November 24 at Aqueduct by two lengths. That was the Malibu Moon colt's final start as a two-year-old, and he returned in late January at Gulfstream to take an optional claimer by a length. The bay made his stakes bow a winning one last out in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, the local prep for the Florida Derby, and boosted his career earnings to $921,050 with the winner's share from Saturday's score.
Now owning a 4-0-1 mark from seven starts, Orb also earned 100 points on the new Road to the Kentucky Derby points system to shoot on top of the current leaderboard for the May 4 classic at Churchill Downs with 150 total points.
The Kentucky-bred colt is out of the winning Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, who is herself a daughter of 1996 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan queen Mesabi Maiden. Orb's third dam, Steel Maiden, ran second in the 1986 edition of that same race and is also the third dam of multiple Group 1 hero Suggestive Boy, who thus far this season has won the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile and Grade 2 Arcadia.
Steel Maiden is a half-sister to Grade 1-winning sire Private Terms and a full sister to the dam of multiple Grade 1-scoring stallion Coronado's Quest. Her dam, Laughter, is a half-sister to all-time great Ruffian and successful Grade 2-winning sires Icecapade and Buckfinder.