The hypnotizing aura of the Kentucky Derby is only two months away.
Owners and trainers are trying to finalize plans to get their thoroughbreds to Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May and all it would mean if they could find fortune at the end of the 1 1/4-mile dream.
It takes points this year. Not earnings. Not graded stakes wins.
One of those seemingly safe, having earned 50 points for winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes in Florida, is a dark brown colt with the odd name of “Orb.” Orb is trained by the affable Shug McGaughey, a lifetime race tracker whose homilies are spoken by a man who sounds like he is talking with marbles in his mouth.
But just like the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Shug talks, everybody listens.
And Shug has a viable Kentucky Derby contender in Orb.
As a fast-learning 2-year-old, Orb won once in four races and had winnings of less than $100,000. Here in 2013, he has won an allowance race and followed that success with his impressive handling of a touted field in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
His two wins in 2013 have brought in $266,100 to the already-prosperous ownership of Stuart Janney and the Phipps Stable.
Trainer McGaughey has acquired the services of Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Velazquez to ride Orb.
In the Fountain of Youth, Velazquez had Orb cruising comfortably near the rear of the field. Up near the front was the unbeaten odds-on favorite, Violence. Violence passed the faltering pace-setter and moved toward the head of the stretch as if to outkick the others to his fifth straight lifetime victory.
But at the same time, Velazquez was active aboard Orb and they were on the move.
Traveling four-wide on the turn, Orb was still second behind Violence until about 125 yards were all that was left to the race.
Orb just kept coming. He passed the still-dangerous Violence and prevailed by about a half-length.
Should he remain healthy, Orb has gained enough points to qualify for the field of 20 that will go to the post in the Kentucky Derby. McGaughey has not mapped Orb’s next race. But he knows full well keeping Orb healthy is uppermost in any future doings. He was shown that when Violence came out of the Fountain of Youth with a broken sesamoid bone in one leg.
Stuart Janney actually bred Orb and did not have to buy him at auction. The lengthy colt is a part of the royalty that has surrounded Janney, Phipps and Caliborne Farm.
Orb’s sire is Malibu Moon, the son of all-time great, A.P. Indy, and the grandson or great grandson on his sire’s side of Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector, Secretariat, Raise A Native and Bold Reasoning. Just as important, farther back on the family tree are Nasrullah and Bold Ruler. Bold Ruler was the sire of Secretariat.
Lady Liberty is Orb’s mother. On that side of the bejeweled family tree are grandfather, Unbridled, and Fappiano, Cox’s Ridge, Mr. Prospector and Damascus.
Orb turned out to be very tall and long-bodied. He has the body of a long-distance runner, being well-balanced and loose limbed with a lean fluidity rather than being a well-muscled thoroughbred.
His win this year in that allowance race was at 1 1/8-miles, a very good sign for a thoroughbred that will see a 1 1/4-mile distance for the first time in the Kentucky Derby. The Fountain of Youth, where Orb closed well, was at 1 1/16-miles.
McGaughey has choices to make.
The Florida Derby on March 30 is at 1 1/8-miles. The Wood Memorial is a week later in New York on April 6.
McGaughey doesn’t chase the media or wait in the wings to jump out in front of television lights. He trains.
He’ll have Orb primed and ready for his next try. And he’ll have him ready for the grueling test that is the Kentucky Derby.