Besilu Stables Florida Derby winner Orb May be Answer to Trainer’s Dream
Shug McGaughey has long dreamed of someday winning the Kentucky Derby, like every other Thoroughbred trainer, but the Hall of Famer has never succumbed to Derby Fever – the foolhardy condition that induces others to head to Churchill Downs each May with horses unfit for the Triple Crown.
McGaughey, who has saddled only six horses for the Derby during the past 30 years, has displayed admirable patience, preferring to wait for a worthy colt to take him to the Churchill Downs than force the issue.
The 62-year-old Kentuckian need wait no more for another shot at the Derby after watching Orb power to a 2 ¾-length victory under John Velazquez in Saturday’s $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
“The Derby is my dream, but we never tried to overdo it,” said McGaughey, whose colt was sent to post as the 5-2 third choice. “Hopefully, this is the one who can take us there.”
Upon arriving in South Florida under the radar in December, Orb has transformed from a late-developing colt with potential into an imposing Triple Crown candidate during the Gulfstream meeting. His triumph in the Florida Derby was his third success of the meeting, including an allowance victory at the 1 1/8-mile distance on Jan. 26 and a late-closing half-length victory in the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 23.
“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.”
Orb settled in fifth in the 10-horse field around the first turn and along the backstretch, as Merit Man, making his first start around two turns, set the pace while pressed by Narvaez during sensible fractions of :24.74 and :48.56 for the first half mile. Merit Man continued to show the way on the final turn, joined on the outside by Itsmyluckyday, the 17-10 favorite who was sent three-wide around Narvaez by jockey Elvis Trujillo, followed by Orb.
Itsmyluckyday, who captured the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream in his last start on Jan 26, took the lead rounding into the homestretch as Merit Man fought back along the rail and Orb loomed as a danger on the outside. Itsmyluckyday opened up by a length in mid-stretch, only to be quickly passed by Orb, who drew off to his fourth-straight victory.
“Johnny did a good job getting him in position. 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,” McGaughey said. “I do think he beat a nice horse that finished second.”
Itsmyluckyday finished second, 2 ¼ lengths clear of Merit Man, a 29-1 outsider ridden by Kent Desormeaux who finished five lengths ahead of Narvaez, the longest priced starter at 103-1.
Shanghai Bobby, the 2-1 second betting choice ridden by Rosie Napravnik, was forwardly placed behind Merit Man before fading to fifth. The Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old champion of 2012 suffered his second straight loss this year.
“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,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “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.”
Orb, a homebred colt owned by Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.87 to earn $600,000, boosting his career earnings to $921,050.
“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,” McGaughey said. “I’m just tickled to death for the Janneys and the Phippses, more than I am for myself, and it’s a big thrill for me.”
Orb, who had already earned a berth in the Kentucky Derby with his Fountain of Youth victory under Churchill Downs’ newly instituted points system, collected an additional 100 points to cement his standing as a serious Derby contender. Itsmyluckyday, trained by longtime South Florida horseman Eddie Plesa Jr., chalked up 50 points for his second-place finish, giving him the right to join Orb at Churchill on the first Saturday in May.
“I expected him to win and he didn’t. Am I disappointed? Yes, but I’m also proud of him too. He’s done everything we’ve asked,” said Plesa, who trains Itsmyluckyday for the Trilogy Stable and his wife, Laurie. “I’ll be fine going to bed tonight with what he did. He won $200,000 today and $600,000 altogether.”
While the first two finishers are highly probable for the Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Hess has not designs on the first leg of the Triple Crown for Merit Man.
“He ran a super race and got a Hall of Fame ride from Kent Desormeaux, but just got beat,” said Hess, who saddled Merit Man for a victory in the six-furlong $100,000 Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 1. “I have a lot of options, just not Kentucky Derby options.
McGaughey, on the other hand, has a rather impressive Kentucky Derby option in Orb. The Hall of Fame trainer has started only one horse, Saarland (10th in 2002) for a Derby start since he saddled favored Easy Goer for a second-place finish behind Sunday Silence in the 1989 Run for the Roses.
“When I ran this horse the first time in September I didn't believe he would be a Derby horse, but we were hoping that somewhere along the line, one of the colts would go through the development stage and take us there, as we do every year," McGaughey said.