Trainer Shug McGaughey sent his Kentucky Derby winner Orb back to New York Sunday to begin preparations for the second leg of the Triple Crown on May 18 at Pimlico.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The best horse won the Kentucky Derby. I'm not trying to be flip. I'm simply reminding you that the Derby has stopped as many Triple Crown winners as the Preakness or Belmont Stakes during this 35-year gap since Affirmed won all three races.
Orb can change that.
Orb showed that traffic, mud, rain, noise, a mile-and-a-quarter and $7,000 ticket prices are all things that he can handle with poise. He can trail by nearly 19 lengths and win the Kentucky Derby by 2 ½.
"Orb was fantastic," trainer Neil Howard said. "He was out of this world. I thought Orb and the people around him showed what horse racing is all about Saturday."
Orb is the best 3-year-old colt of his generation. On Sunday morning he departed Churchill Downs for the remainder of the Triple Crown series. He acted as frisky as he behaved Saturday evening when overtook 16 horses in the final half-mile to win the first leg of the Triple Crown.
"If we keep everything going in the direction that we're going, he's going to have a chance," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "If we can get by the Preakness (May 18), I think he's going to be one that will get the Belmont and really carry at Belmont. That's his home."
McGaughey is not a chest-pounder. He's as old school as a pair of khaki pants and a blue blazer. He was humbled Saturday night when many of the customers at Pat's Steak House stood and applauded when McGaughey and his party entered the restaurant for their celebratory meal.
All spring McGaughey has worked at controlling his enthusiasm about Orb. This couldn't be the same colt that did not win a race until last Nov. 24.
But Orb keeps inspiring his trainer to think grander thoughts.
"It always amazes me how he comes out of his races," McGaughey said. "The first of January if you would have told me I'd be sitting here today I would have thought you would have been nuts. Even the middle of February."
"He amazes me how quick he picks up horses when it comes time (to run). He's done it before. Now he's taking the jock there a little bit more. Earlier, you kind of had to ask him a little bit and then ask him a little bit more. Now when they push the button, he's ready."
Ready to run as if he's wanted in 48 states. Some trainers have already seen enough of Orb. Todd Pletcher is not taking any of his five Kentucky Derby horses to Baltimore for the Preakness. That includes Revolutionary, who finished a determined third. Dallas Stewart, trainer of Derby runner-up Golden Soul, will also pass on Pimlico. His target is the mile-and-a-half Belmont, run in New York on June 8.
Others are not as reluctant. Goldencents finished 17th in the Derby, but trainer Doug O'Neill is convinced his colt will run considerably better in Baltimore. D. Wayne Lukas thinks that Orb is the goods. That will not stop him from chasing him again with Oxbow and Will Take Charge.
Fresh horses will line up in Baltimore and in New York, if necessary. It won't be easy. It never is. Nobody gives you a Triple Crown.
But they can stop you as easily in Louisville as they do in Baltimore or New York City. As much as the world has focused on the Triple Crowns that I'll Have Another, Big Brown, Smarty Jones and others failed to deliver at the Belmont, never forget that the Kentucky Derby is the race that stopped talented horses like Curlin, Point Given, Holy Bull and Skip Away.
Howard has been one of McGaughey's best friends in racing for 30 years. Last week Howard was reluctant to tell McGaughey how marvelously he thought Orb was training. But he couldn't resist.
"I don't want to jinx you," Howard said, "but I think you've got the Derby winner."
McGaughey just laughed. The trainer is 62. He'd heard that before.
On Sunday morning, McGaughey wasn't answering many calls. But he did take one from Howard, laughing as he told his friend how happy he was that Howard had been right.
"When you put all this into it and see this happen, it's a big thrill," McGaughey said. "Because as we all know, most of the time it doesn't happen."
"But when it does happen and to see him run the way that he ran as I was watching the race and watching it unfold, there was a lot of anticipation … I was thrilled with the way he ran."