May 16, 2013

PREAKNESS: Orb comes long way since debut

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HERE WE GO: Exercise rider Jenn Patterson gallops Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness Stakes favorite Orb on Thursday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

AP photo

When Orb was sent to Ocala in August 2011, Brennan already had an idea of what he was getting since he'd been the Claiborne to chart Orb's development, as well as dozens of other horses.

"He always looked good physically, but there were others that were the same," Brennan said. "At that time, it's like kids on a soccer field playing around and as you get into early spring, they start separating themselves. You begin to see their athletic ability and Orb at this time a year ago was doing very well."

Orb was among the first group of Brennan's 2-year-olds to be sent out to their respective trainers. Also under his care at the time were two other Derby horses -- Revolutionary and Palace Malice -- and Den's Legacy, who was on the Derby trail for a while.

Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, who co-owns Orb with Janney, remembers seeing the horse early on and not being overly impressed.

"I think we really thought he was just a horse," Phipps said. "I don't think even Shug thought he was much better than that. But after he came back from the Fountain of Youth he came back looking bigger, better and stronger and then he did the same thing after the Florida Derby. And after the Derby. Let's just hope that's the way he's headed (going into the Preakness)."

Despite Orb's troubles at the start of his racing career, McGaughey now marvels at what may be the best horse he's ever trained over a 34-year career that includes 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer and many female champions topped by undefeated Personal Ensign.

"He has filled out so much physically," McGaughey said. "I look at him and I can't believe what I'm seeing from last November to now. Mentally, everything has come together. He was a bit difficult at the gate all of his 2-year-old year and that's all behind him. I couldn't be more pleased with his development."

During his win streak, Orb had a new rider for the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby in John Velazquez because Rosario had a prior racing commitment. Rosario regained the mount for the Derby after Velazquez chose Verrazano as his Derby horse. On the day Orb won the Florida Derby, Rosario was in Dubai winning the $10 million World Cup aboard Animal Kingdom.

"This is very good," he said of Orb's win. "He's really getting much better. He showed it in the Kentucky Derby, and I hope he shows it on Saturday."

Orb is considered a closer, but McGaughey says he's versatile.

"He comes from back, but they don't have to take him back," McGaughey said. "It depends on the color of the race. If it's a fast pace, he'll be off of it, but if it's slow, I think he'll actually be laying up close like he was in the Florida Derby within four, five, six lengths. And he has got enough of a punch that you don't take him out of the game plan when you do lay up close."

McGaughey does not take all the credit for Orb's success. Credit also goes to exercise rider Jenn Patterson, who has spent as much time with Orb as anyone. She was with him in the weeks before the Florida Derby, and would make the weekly three-hour round trip drive from Gulfstream Park to Payson Park for Orb's workouts.

"Without her, we wouldn't be here," McGaughey said. "It's not only her riding ability, it's her horsemanship and dedication to the whole thing. Nobody will know how much I appreciate her and what I think of her and her abilities. The rapport we have between each other... I think it's a pretty remarkable relationship."

And because of it, Orb no longer fits in with the crowd. He stands out.


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