The backstretch at Churchill Downs in Louisville is buzzing about Orb, the winner of the Florida Derby and a top Kentucky Derby contender.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Trying To Uncover The Kentucky
Derby 139 Winner:
*Doesn't matter where you go on the backside of Churchill
Downs. Barn 11. Barn 45. The track kitchen or a viewing stand near any of the
gaps. There is one horse that is the hot horse as Derby Week begins:
Who looks powerful moving over the track?
Who's adding muscle in all the right places?
Which colt has a trainer who seems like the most relaxed guy
on the grounds?
Orb, who is trained by Shug McGaughey.
There might be a hotter hot horse by Tuesday. By Friday I
expect the wise guys to start arguing that Orb is a sucker horse. Peaked too
soon. Worked too fast. Something.
I'll keep immersing myself in a course of Hot Horse History.
Lawyer Ron was a hot horse in 2006. He finished 12th. The
backstretch raved about Birdstone in 2004. Finished eighth. Buddy Gil, Medaglia
d'Oro and Stephen Got Even are Hot Horse Hall of Famers.
But six days from the Derby, the horse most likely to make
you take a long and loving look at his form is Orb, winner of four consecutive
races, including the Florida Derby. Orb works Monday at 8:30 a.m.
*David Carroll is a veteran Churchill Downs trainer. He
doesn't have a horse in the Derby field, but he loves the race and studying the
contenders as they make their way to Churchill Downs.
I asked Carroll for a horse that has impressed him.
"Orb has impressed me a lot," Carroll said. "From his
appearance. Listening to Shug. Talking to Shug. He's showing a lot of
confidence in the horse.
"Normandy Invasion has also impressed me out here, looking
at him. He finished up good in the Wood. He seems to be a horse on the improve.
He likes the track here as well.
"I can see five or six different horses winning the race."
But Carroll prefers to wait until after the post position
draw before making his selection.
"That will play a big part in telling where they are,"
Carroll said. "If you draw inside, it's not a good draw. If you draw 20, that's
not a good draw.
"I think that Number One you have to wait and look at all
the horses and see how they're doing. Then you see how the draw comes out. Then
start handicapping. I think it's a good Derby, I really do. Every year they say
it's a bad crop of 3-year-olds – and then they go out and win multiple stakes
*You won't find a bigger University of Kentucky sports fan
than McGaughey. Although he moved to New York several decades ago, McGaughey
follows UK football and basketball intensely from afar.
And McGaughey admitted that he is one of those UK fans who hesitate
to cheer for the University of Louisville.
But he gave a major hat tip to Rick Pitino and the work he
did while coaching the Cardinals to the NCAA title three weeks ago.
"He's a remarkable story," McGaughey said. "If he's not the
best, he's one of the best college coaches there has ever been. If he had never
gone to the Celtics (from UK in 1997), there's no telling what kind of a legacy
that he would have, how many championships he'd have.
"He had it rolling. I'm sure he would have probably stayed
at Kentucky and gotten one player after another player. My hat is off to him.
"I'll tell you the truth: I never thought he would win a
championship here. I didn't think he'd be able to get the players to come to
Louisville. But I think it shows you that he got the players and the players
stayed here and he was able to develop the players and coach them and teach
them the way he wanted them to play …
"He can take guys and develop them, guys like (Tim)
Henderson and Luke (Hancock). It's incredible. Rick did a remarkable job."