At 9 a.m. on the Churchill Downs backside the morning of May 5, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey had appeared on the Today Show, filmed an interview and broadcast promo, and held court with various members of the print media, all while his busy team loaded up stable gear and horses for a trip back to their home base in the Empire State.
Orb , Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III's homebred winner of the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I), stood at the front of the stall closest to a sizable group of reporters, well-wishers, and fans. The Malibu Moon colt was bright-eyed and relaxed, undisturbed by the hubbub around him. He took bites from a hay net and alternated munching with posing as professional photographers stopped by to take his picture and fans held up smartphones and cameras to do the same.
"He looks great," McGaughey said. "I got back here last night and he was done up and standing up at the front of the stall, doing fine, and this morning he walked fine. Until they hooked him up at the back of the stall getting ready to ship him, he was standing up at the front of the stall eating out of his hay rack and seemed to be just fine."
McGaughey stood inside the shedrow as a steady drizzle fell outside, the cool and rainy conditions of the previous afternoon carrying over into post-Derby Day. Known for his quiet confidence and conservative training style, the trainer nevertheless made no bones about his anticipation for the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the second jewel in the Triple Crown held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.
"Can't wait to get there," McGaughey said. "I was eagerly anticipating running him (in the Kentucky Derby) and I'm going to be that way if everything goes right and we get to go to Pimlico."
According to McGaughey, the Kentucky Derby winner will train at Belmont Park until the week before the Preakness, most likely turning in a pre-race breeze there on May 13 or 14 before heading to Pimlico May 14. Orb earned a 104 Beyer figure for his 2 1/2-length Derby triumph under jockey Joel Rosario.
"I'll be eager to get him back home and get him back in an atmosphere that we're all familiar with and comfortable with, kind of get him back under his own barn and get him over this, try to get him freshened up the rest of the week and get him ready to run again," the trainer said.
Orb has exited big efforts extremely well in the past, including the March 30 Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) score that launched him to the Kentucky Derby winner's circle as he built a five-race streak of victories.
"I think he'll be fine; that's one of the things I've been really amazed at, how he's come out of his races all winter," McGaughey said. "You never know how they're going to react in two weeks, but he hasn't been overcooked and I would be disappointed if he didn't bounce back and be just the same horse we saw yesterday. What I saw this morning is the same thing I saw after the Florida Derby. I said, 'Let's wait for a couple days and see once he lets down if he is tired,' but he never showed it."
At 9:45 a.m., exercise rider Jen Patterson clipped a leadshank on the dark bay runner, led him out of Barn 43, and attempted to coax him into joining stablemates such as grade I winner Hymn Book and top turf runner Point of Entry aboard a Sallee van for a flight expected to arrive in New York around 1 p.m. EDT. The Kentucky Derby winner did not want to leave the Commonwealth, giving his handlers a moment of resistance as he attempted to graze near the loading area, but Patterson's quiet persistence won out. Orb walked up the ramp to join his fellow contenders, safely stowed away under the supervision of McGaughey.
"I'm looking forward to him getting back home ... being back on familiar grounds and quiet, a lot quieter than he's experienced around here for the last two weeks, then tighten the bolts and get him ready to run again," the trainer said.