Kentucky Derby Preview: All About Orb
He is more than just a buzz horse, this 7-2 morning-line favorite for the 139th running of the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Training around Churchill Downs in the days leading up to the 1 1/4-mile Classic, Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable's Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Orb has become the face of Kentucky Derby 139, a contender whose smooth morning gallops and perfect final breeze have more than one trainer wishing they could trade places—or at least runners—with Hall of Fame horseman Shug McGaughey.
"I love the way Orb moves over the ground. He just really, really floats here," said three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, who won't have a contender in this year's Run for the Roses. "This horse looks the part. He's moving great."
McGaughey brings the bay son of Malibu Moon , his first Derby attempt since saddling Saarland in 2002, to Kentucky to take on 19 other top sophomores, including undefeated Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) winner Verrazano and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Goldencents. Although 62-year-old McGaughey has never won the Derby, racing fans recognize his most popular of six starters as a runner-up to Sunday Silence—eventual Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Easy Goer in 1989.
"I'm really excited about the whole thing," said McGaughey, who sent Orb through a powerful four furlongs in :47 4/5 on April 29. "Since the Florida Derby, everything's gone well for us … I'm as excited as I've been in a long time about a race, and I'm trying to have fun with this. I have not been like this in a long time, maybe ever, really. I think we've got a horse that's going in the right direction, and we're excited to have the opportunity to win the Kentucky Derby, which I consider America's premier race."
Orb, to be ridden by the white-hot Joel Rosario in a quest for his connections' first Derby win, will depart gate 16 when the field is sent on its way at approximately 6:24 p.m. (all times Eastern). Orb is on a four-race winning streak including a Florida Derby victory over fellow Derby contender Itsmyluckyday, while Verrazano also has the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) on his 4-for-4 record.
Verrazano, owned by Let's Go Stables with Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, is a More Than Ready colt who heads up the "Todd Squad," trainer Todd Pletcher's contingent of five contenders. Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia—setting his 40th Kentucky Derby morning line—made Verrazano the 4-1 second choice from post 14 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who seeks a second Derby win to go with his 2011 edition aboard Animal Kingdom . Velazquez returned to riding May 2 at Belmont Park after spending time on the sidelines because of injuries sustained in an April 7 spill at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"I feel very, very good," the 41-year-old reinsman said. "I had no problem getting into the swing of things and I don't think the time off will affect me at all."
Goldencents, trained by Doug O'Neill for a partnership group that includes University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, is a son of Into Mischief who could bring O'Neill back to the Derby winner's circle after the California conditioner took last year's edition with I'll Have Another . He would be the first trainer since Baffert, in 1997-98 with Silver Charm and Real Quiet, to win the Derby in consecutive years.
"It's a great feeling (to be back)," O'Neill said. "We've got a nice horse this year as well. Goldencents has got the mind, he's got the physical talents, so we're pretty pumped."
Goldencents will be jockey Kevin Krigger's first Kentucky Derby mount. He drew post 8 and is the third choice in the field at odds of 5-1 for W.C. Racing, Dave Kenney, and Pitino's RAP Racing. Krigger has ridden the bay colt in all of his six starts.
The 13-race Derby day program is scheduled to begin with a first race post time of 10:30 a.m. The Derby, race 11, will be carried by NBC with a three-hour telecast from 4-7 p.m. with additional programming earlier in the day on NBC Sports Network. The Derby purse, if all start, is $2,199,800 with $1,439,800 going to the winner on what is forecast to be a day with temperatures around 60 degrees with a 70% chance of rain.
If the rain comes, O'Neill thinks Goldencents will handle an off track.
"He's never raced on an off track, so you can't be sure about that," the trainer said. "But we breezed him on a wet track that had been sealed one time this spring at Santa Anita and he skipped right over it. He's a sure-footed horse and nothing seems to bother him."
One Derby horse who has battled with Orb in spite of losing to him by 2 3/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby is Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa's Itsmyluckyday. The Lawyer Ron colt won the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) in track-record time at Gulfstream Park earlier in the season off a win in the Gulfstream Park Derby, defeating 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the process for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.
"He's got a lot of ability, he's a happy horse, and he likes Kentucky," Plesa said. "I see his style of running being a benefit for him, being a stalker."
At 15-1 on the morning line, Itsmyluckyday will be ridden from the 12 hole by Elvis Trujillo.
Along with Verrazano, Pletcher—who saddled Super Saver to win the Kentucky Derby in 2010—will send out Repole Stable's Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Overanalyze , WinStar Farm's Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Revolutionary, Dogwood Stable's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Palace Malice, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten, third in the Blue Grass.
"The Derby's a very difficult race to watch with (even just) one horse in, there's just so much going on with the big field, but I'll try to survey as much of it as I can and keep an eye on all of them the best I can," said Pletcher, who also had five Derby starters in 2007.
Revolutionary, by War Pass, has won three in a row and is the fourth choice at 10-1 on the morning line. He will be ridden by three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel from the 3 hole; one of Borel's three winners was Super Saver. Rafael Bejarano will be aboard Overanalyze from post 9, 2005 Derby winner Mike Smith will ride Palace Malice from post 10, and Edgar Prado, who won the Derby in 2006 on Barbaro, has the mount on Charming Kitten from gate 10.
One contender who appears to be training forwardly is Fox Hill Farms' Wood Memorial runner-up Normandy Invasion. The lithe bay runner, who is 34-year-old trainer Chad Brown's first Derby starter, actually briefly ran off with his exercise rider on the morning of May 2 at Churchill.
"This horse is so sharp right now, you just have to hold him on the ground," Brown said.
Normandy Invasion, by Tapit , will be ridden from post 5 by Javier Castellano and is 12-1 on the morning line.
Late-running Blue Grass Stakes winner Java's War is listed at 15-1 for trainer Ken McPeek and owner/breeder Charles Fipke; Fipke also has 50-1 shot Golden Soul trained by Dallas Stewart, while McPeek will also saddle Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy, 50-1, for Magic City Thoroughbred Partners.
Another longshot is Louisiana Derby runner-up Mylute, a Midnight Lute colt who missed that victory by a late-closing neck for trainer Tom Amoss and owners GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm. His 15-1 odds could drop on Derby day when fans note he is ridden by the highly successful and popular Rosie Napravnik.
Vyjack, winner of the Jerome (gr. II) and Gotham (gr. III) for trainer Rudy Rodriguez and owner Pick Six Racing, is also 15-1 while drawing the far outside post. The Into Mischief gelding, who has been known to have a somewhat difficult nature, blew out three furlongs in :37 on May 2 as he prepared to seek a rebound from his Wood Memorial third.
"He's been amazing over here," Rodriguez said. "To see him behave and act and train the way he's training … I was expecting it to be a little more of a challenge, but he's taking everything very good. He knows he's coming to a race and he's a lot more mature now."
All listed at 50-1 are Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. II) winner Black Onyx, trained by Kelly Breen for Sterling Racing; Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) winner Falling Sky, fourth in the Arkansas Derby for John Terranova II and the partnership group of Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello, and Joseph Bulger; and last-minute entrant Giant Finish, third in the Spiral for trainer Anthony Dutrow and owner Sunrise Stables and partners. Black Onyx drew the rail.
Lines of Battle, the UAE Derby (UAE-II) winner who was last to arrive at Churchill for Irish trainer Aiden O'Brien and Coolmore, is 30-1.
In addition to Pletcher and O'Neill, one other trainer seeks an additional Derby trophy: D. Wayne Lukas, who has already collected four. He sends out Willis Horton's Will Take Charge and Calumet Farm's Oxbow . Will Take Charge won the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) in his most recent start and will be ridden by Jon Court. Oxbow, runner-up in the Rebel but fifth last time out in the Arkansas Derby, has Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in search of his own fourth Derby win. Stevens and Lukas teamed to win the 1988 Derby with Winning Colors and the 1995 Derby with Thunder Gulch .
"I don't feel like I'm on my last one; I think there's more in front especially the way Calumet is building up and some of the clientele we're getting," Lukas said. "Each Derby is a separate identity and a separate moment. I just want to win a couple more."
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