Trainer Shug McGaughey said he was waiting for Orb to take him to Louisville. The Hall of Fame conditioner should be on his way after the colt's impressive win in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) March 30 (VIDEO).
"The Derby is my dream, but we never tried to overdo it," McGaughey said. "Hopefully, this is the one who can take us there."
Under a patient ride from John Velazquez, 5-2 shot Orb headed favored Itsmyluckyday approaching the sixteenth pole and coasted home in front to secure a berth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 4.
Orb won by 2 3/4 lengths while completing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.87.
Combined with his win in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (gr. I) Feb. 23, Orb has 150 points and rockets to the lead in the standings for a berth in the Derby. The Florida Derby was worth 100 points, with 40 points to the runner-up, 20 to third, and 10 to fourth.
"I'm pretty excited about the first Florida Derby I've ever won," McGaughey said. "I'm just glad to see the horse take another step, and we'll go from there.
Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby was a no-show in the Florida Derby, finishing off the board, and appears to be on the outside looking in at the Derby.
Itsmyluckyday, the 8-5 pick in the field of 10 3-year-olds, held second and looks solid for a slot in the Derby starting gate with 50 points. Outsider Merit Man, who set a tepid pace, was third, with 99-1 shot Narvaez fourth.
Orb, a Kentucky-bred son of Malibu Moon out of the winning Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, races for his breeders, Stuart Janney III and Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps.
"From the Fountain of Youth (until) now, he's a different horse, physically and coat-wise," McGaughey said of Orb. "Hopefully, he'll keep going forward. It's really exciting. I've never won the Fountain of Youth and now to win the Florida Derby it's exciting. 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. It's a big thrill for me."
Orb raced mid-pack for Velazquez as Merit Man showed the way over Narvaez, Itsmyluckyday, and Shanghai Bobby at the rail. Fractions for the first six furlongs were comfortable at :24.74, :48.57, and 1:12.89.
Itsmyluckyday, ridden by Elvis Trujillo, stalked the pace three wide before taking over at the quarter pole. The Holy Bull (gr. III) winner led by one length in the stretch as Orb advanced to collar Merit Man. Itsmyluckyday continued to lead past the eighth pole when challenged by Orb, and could not keep pace as Orb drew off impressively.
"Johnny did a good job getting him in position," McGaughey said. "I got a little nervous on the turn when it looked like he backed up a little bit, but he switched on his right lead and came with his run. I do think he beat a nice horse that finished second."
Velazquez said Orb didn't get off to a good start but he found a spot on the first turn where he could follow Itsmyluckyday. He said he wanted to avoid passing the leader too soon in the stretch, so he sat against Itsmyluckyday.
"Once we did that and I asked him he responded right away," Velazquez said. "It was impressive. Once I asked him he was there for me and I couldn't ask for a better feeling than that."
Itsmyluckyday was 2 1/4 lengths clear of third-place Merit Man, with Narvaez five lengths farther back in fourth.
"I expected him to win and he didn't," said Eddie Plesa Jr., trainer of Itsmyluckyday. "Am I disappointed? Yes, but I'm also very proud of him too. He's done everything we've asked.
"He ran his race. He just got outrun. The winner ran a fantastic race. We finished second and that's good enough to get to the Derby, which was our goal. I thought we were sitting in pretty good position and moved for the lead on the far turn but Orb just outkicked him."
Shanghai Bobby, contending with the rail post, was in tight early while stalking the pace at the inside for Rosie Napravnik into the far turn. He weakened in the stretch to be fifth.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said, "We got crowded going into the first turn with everyone going for the same spot. It got a little rough going into the first turn. He was always kind of stuck on the inside with everyone jockeying for the same position. He seemed to be in a tough spot all the way around. Rosie said he just never really relaxed in that scenario. We'll see how he comes out of it before making any decisions for the future."
Shanghai Bobby was followed by Pick of the Litter, Frac Daddy, Are You Kidding Me, Indy's Illusion, and Pontiff.
Orb, who started the year with an allowance/optional claiming win at Gulfstream Jan. 26, is 3-for-3 over the track this meet. He won the Fountain of Youth by half a length over Violence Feb. 23, coming from off the pace.
The bay colt is on a four-race winning streak since breaking his maiden in his fourth start last November at Aqueduct Racetrack. The $600,000 winner's share of the Florida Derby extended Orb's career earnings to $921,050.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, third choice Orb paid $7.80, $3.80, $3.40. Itsmyluckyday returned $3 and $2.60. The exacta was worth $23.40. Merit Man paid $8.60 to show.