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 Grade 1 Florida Derby 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 3/4-length victory in Gulfstream's signature race, Orb climbed to the very top of Churchill Downs' Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, 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 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on February 23.
Upon arriving in South Florida under the radar in December, Orb has transformed from a late-developing colt with potential into an imposing Triple Crown candidate during the Gulfstream meeting. His triumph in the Florida Derby was his third success of the meeting, including an allowance victory at the 1 1/8-mile distance on January 26. The son of Malibu Moon began his ascent at Aqueduct, breaking his maiden by two lengths on November 24.
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.
"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, more than I am for myself, and it's a big thrill for me."
The 62-year-old native Kentuckian was garnering his first Florida Derby win on Saturday, and will be seeking his first Kentucky Derby on May 4. McGaughey, who isn't overly concerned about Orb getting the 1 1/4-mile distance of the classic, 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.
"I think he's the kind of horse that's probably better the farther they get," he said of Orb. "I'm just glad to see the horse take another step, and we'll go from there."
Like every other Thoroughbred trainer, McGaughey has long dreamed of someday winning the Kentucky Derby, but the Hall of Famer has never succumbed to Derby Fever. Instead, he's displayed admirable patience, preferring to wait for a worthy colt to take him to the Churchill Downs than force the issue.
"The Derby is my dream, but we never tried to overdo it," McGaughey admitted. "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. Hopefully, this is the one who can take us there."
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 Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial 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," McGaughey stated, 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," the Hall of Famer remarked.