Trainer Shug McGaughey said June 2 that Orb definitely will be pointed toward the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) following the colt's half-mile work in :48.30 at Belmont Park and gallop-out of five furlongs in a sharp 1:00.48.
"I have already called Mr. (Stuart) Janney (who co-owns Orb with the Phipps family) and told him we're all on the same page and if he (Orb) has a good week it's a 'go' (for the Belmont)," McGaughey said shortly after the work by the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner. "I was looking for a strong gallop-out and we got what we were looking for. I want to have a good horse for the summer, but he's doing good right now, and you never know what can happen between now and then."
Orb would be facing Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Oxbow, assuming both start June 8, the 21st time in which the winners of the first two jewels of the Triple Crown clash in the Belmont Stakes. They will have plenty of company with as many as 15 possible to enter.
With regular exercise rider Jennifer Patterson aboard, Orb went to the track shortly before 6 a.m. (EDT) and broke off with stablemate Hymn Book. The pair went a solid half-mile together, and passing the wire Orb found another gear and showed excellent acceleration, galloping out another eighth in :12 2/5, his feet barely touching the ground.
Coming off the track, Orb was full of himself, trying to buck off Patterson, and it was obvious the work took little out of him.
"He started off nice and steady, which Shug wanted, and finished up strong," Patterson said. "I gave him his head at the eighth pole and he opened up his stride. He did everything very easily. I didn't have to encourage him at all. He came off the track and he was kind of spooking and playing, but in a good way. He's just happy and feeling good. Everything went right this morning."
With five wins from nine career starts and earnings of $2,395,850, Orb has won four of five starts this year. In his previous race, the colt ran an inexplicable fourth in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), won by Oxbow .
McGaughey believes the Preakness effort was a case of it just not being the colt's day, especially after getting stuck down on the deep rail most of the race. He is hoping that with Orb back in his own stall on his home track he can duplicate his performance at Churchill Downs in the Derby.
"It does shake your confidence a little bit," McGaughey said of the loss. "I remember back in '89 when Easy Goer got beat in the Derby, I attributed it to the (sloppy) racetrack. But I didn't know, because I didn't have any comparison. Are we as good as Sunday Silence or is he two or three lengths better than us? Then we ran in the Preakness and got beat a nose, and I knew we were comparable to him.
"I think if things go right, next Saturday I think you'll see a different horse than we saw two weeks ago."
Other Belmont contenders working at Belmont June 2 were a quintet from the barn of Todd Pletcher.
First on the track for Pletcher was Overanalyze , who worked four furlongs in :48.01 in company with Caixa Eletronica and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13. Pletcher said he felt the son of Dixie Union was "pretty willing" in the work.
He was followed by Palace Malice , who breezed a half-mile in :47.56 in company with the unraced 3-year-old colt Catron. As usual, the son of Curlin established the pace of the work and did everything on his own, despite the fast time. It was the third-fastest of 46 at the distance on the morning.
Pletcher was happy with the way the filly went and said afterward he would estimate her chances of running in the Belmont as 80-90%. He was to discuss it with owner Mike Repole later in the day. Pletcher felt the work was similar to her work before the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), in which she finished third.
"She was enthusiastic and didn't have to be asked or encouraged at any point," Pletcher said.
Pletcher will also talk to Repole, who also owns Overanalyze, about the status of Midnight Taboo, whose five-furlong work in 1:00.88 didn't seem to excite the trainer.
"He worked good, but he didn't blow me away," Pletcher said. Repole will make the final call regarding the Belmont Stakes.
"Basically, (Repole) is holding the cards in terms of how many we end up running," Pletcher said. "With Midnight Taboo, the Easy Goer Stakes is an option that day. It's just a matter of how aggressive Mike wants to be, and take a shot with a horse that's lightly raced but has some talent. It would be asking a lot for him to win the Belmont in his fourth start, but strange things have happened."
The final Belmont Stakes worker was Godolphin's Incognito, who worked a half in :48 1/5 on the training track, in company with Irsaal, who trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said never gets beat in a workout. Holding true to form, Irsaal finished a neck in front of Incognito. McLaughlin said Incognito, a son of A.P. Indy—Octave, will try the Belmont mainly because of his pedigree, which is geared toward a mile and a half.
McLaughlin also said he decided to work Incognito on the training track because the colt feels more at home there, and the smaller turns help him change leads more efficiently.
"He galloped out well and worked with a nice horse, Irsaal," McLaughlin said. "He basically hasn't missed any days of training or racing all year. We weren't there to get him fit. Just what we wanted."
Tom Albertrani galloped Peter Pan winner Freedom Child and then let the colt open up past the wire and around the turn, going in :12 flat from the wire to the seven-eighths pole and then :13 for each of the next two eighths. Albertrani said he gave him that short blowout to prevent him from rattling off rapid fractions in a full work following his :59 4/5 drill May 27.
"We just let him stretch his legs," Albertrani said. "I was listening to the weather and it sounds like there's going to be some heavy rain coming tonight. I was hoping to wait until tomorrow, but I said, 'Let's just get it done today while we've got a good track.' Actually, he went really good."
Ron Mitchell contributed to this story.