Much has been said and written about the grueling demands the Kentucky Derby places on a horse so early in his 3-year-old season. Trainer Shug McGaughey understands how stern the rigors of a 1 1/4-mile race can be on a young horse, but he had no doubt Orb was physically up to the challenge during his victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 4.
"I always thought that if the horse wants to run that far, it's not going to be demanding on him. If you're trying to make a horse do something that maybe he doesn't want to do, then it might take more out of him than it would naturally," McGaughey said May 14 at Pimlico Race Course. "I think Orb is the kind of horse that naturally wants to go a distance of ground. In the Derby, with the pace, he got to run his race and we didn't take him out of any game plan."
Orb, who is likely to be heavily favored to win Saturday's Preakness Stakes (gr. I), gave his Hall of Fame trainer all he could handle in the shedrow of the Pimlico stakes barn the morning of May 14.
"He had a lot of energy. I walked him a few turns and had to give him up," McGaughey said with a smile. "So far, so good. I worried a little bit yesterday coming down here: 'Am I going too early?' But I'm glad we got in here while it's still good and quiet and got settled in. He had a good night and a nice morning. Everything is good."
Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable's homebred colt breezed a half-mile at Belmont Park May 13 in :47.18 under exercise rider Jenn Patterson before shipping to Pimlico in a van that arrived shortly after 3 p.m.
"(Jenn) was so worried (May 13) that she had gone too fast. I had to assure her that the way he did it he didn't (go too fast)," McGaughey said. "I asked her this morning, 'Still think he went too fast?' She just laughed."
McGaughey continued to marvel at the progress Orb has shown after each race this year.
"It shows the development he's going through. He's showing us in his daily routine since the Derby that he's still moving forward," he said. "What he's going to show in the afternoon, who knows? But right now, I'm really, really pleased with what I see."
McGaughey walked the racetrack in the morning May 14 with Patterson, who also rode a pony over the track to familiarize herself with the racing surface. The 62-year-old trainer hasn't been a participant in the Preakness Stakes since Easy Goer's defeat by a nose to Sunday Silence in 1989.
"As soon as I got here, it all came back to me—where I needed to be, where I was going," he said. "I feel like I'm back on familiar ground, and I'm tickled to death to be here."