Florida Derby victor Orb impressed trainer Shug McGaughey Sunday morning at Payson Park while breezing five furlongs during a key workout for a scheduled start in the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
"This was the one we need to get behind us," McGaughey said. "What I really wanted to see was to see him finish good. I didn't want to see him walking the last part of it."
Scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs later Sunday, Orb breezed five furlongs in 1:02 1/5 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 4/5 under regular exercise rider Jennifer Patterson. Working in company with Puzzling, a five-year-old mare ridden by Octavio Vergara, Orb ran the last quarter of a mile in :23 4/5.
During the 7:15 a.m. (EDT) workout that attracted several spectators, including two-time NFL Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells, Orb raced side by side with his stablemate for three furlongs through fractions of :13 3/5, :26 4/5 and :38 2/5 before finishing a neck in front and galloping out strongly.
"What I liked to see was that he was very settled going to the track, warming up and coming home," McGaughey said. "Walking around here now, he's as calm as can be. That's what we've got to have the next two weeks."
The Hall of Fame trainer said Orb would likely breeze at Churchill Downs on April 29, Monday of Derby Week, if all goes well.
McGaughey has saddled only six Kentucky Derby starters during his illustrious career and has been represented in the Run for the Roses by only one (Saarland, 10th in 2002) since favored Easy Goer finished second behind Sunday Silence in 1989.
"I'm really excited. I hope I stay excited and don't get nervous, but I know that's not going to happen. I had a lot of anticipation about today to get this over with in the right way. We got a good bottom work into him. We'll sharpen him up over there," McGaughey said.
"But I am excited about the opportunity. If everything goes right in the next 13 days, I'll really get excited about maybe having a chance to win."
Orb made a meteoric rise to stardom at Gulfstream Park after breaking his maiden at Aqueduct in his fourth lifetime start on November 24. Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable's homebred colt captured a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on January 26 before upsetting previously undefeated Violence by a half-length in the Fountain of Youth on February 23.
Orb capped off a spectacular Gulfstream meeting with a commanding 2 3/4-length triumph over Holy Bull winner Itsmyluckyday in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 30.
"When he won the allowance race at a mile and an eighth, we were way ahead of where we wanted to be. Then, when he cut back to a mile and a sixteenth [for the Fountain of Youth], drawing the 1 post, I didn't know what to expect," McGaughey said.
"Then, going into the Florida Derby, he'd trained so well and made so much physical improvement from the Fountain of Youth to the Florida Derby, I said to myself when they were going into the gate, 'I'm going to be interested to see how this horse runs today.''
Orb ran like a top contender for the Kentucky Derby under deft handling by jockey John Velazquez.
"I've never had a horse show so much improvement over this short period of time at this time of the year," McGaughey said.
Velazquez, who also guided Orb to victory in the Fountain of Youth, made the tough choice to ride undefeated Verrazano, who is trained by longtime associate Todd Pletcher, in the Kentucky Derby.
Joel Rosario, who had ridden Orb in his back-to-back maiden and allowance victories, gave up the mount on Orb to honor a previous commitment to ride Speak Logistics in the Fountain of Youth. When he needed to once again fill the open mount on Orb, McGaughey didn't hesitate to go back to Rosario for the Kentucky Derby.
"It was always in the making," he said. "There was not a thought about getting anyone else."