I had the great pleasure of having an Orb-filled day yesterday; well, more like Orb-adjacent, but it was still pretty awesome.
Monday was the day that the Kentucky Derby winner was scheduled to put in his last workout (meaning that he would be breezing, or running at or close to racing speed) before he races in this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. His trainer Shug McGaughey likes to keep horses in the routines that they’re used to, so that meant that the big horse was going to go to the track at 6 a.m. to strut his stuff. After that, he was going to get on a horse van and make the journey down the I-95 corridor to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
My alarm went off at 4 a.m. this morning, and after saying a few words that are inappropriate for this blog, I got out of bed, gathered my luggage and my giant bag-o-technology and met my coworker on the corner to make the 30-minute drive to beautiful Belmont Park in Long Island.
After a quick stop to acquire coffees the size of an infant, we arrived at Belmont and met up with some other intrepid members of the press corps who were also there to see how Orb would fare in his single workout between the Derby and the Preakness. It was a very chilly morning, but we were all too eager to see how the horse would train to pay attention to the cold.
We gathered outside of the barn, and after a few minutes Orb emerged with his regular rider Jenn Patterson aboard.
He then headed to the track accompanied by his pony Well Well (who used to be a racehorse himself in one of his many former careers.)
Once Orb and Well Well got to the track, the pair waited at the finish line, allowing Orb to relax and take in the beautiful crisp morning.
Jenn gave Orb a few pats, letting him know that he was being a good boy for waiting so patiently.
The thing about Orb is that he seems to know that he’s a special horse, and he kind of mugs for the cameras. He actually turned his head to us as if making sure that we were taking enough pictures of him:
Yeah, don’t worry big guy: we’re on it! Of course, it’s hard not to take photos of such a handsome horse – especially one who just won the Kentucky Derby.
After striking a pose, Orb and Well Well headed off to get the big horse started on his workout.
Orb broke away from Well Well and when he was a half-mile away from the finish line he settled down into his breeze. He went past so effortlessly that I was convinced that he hadn’t gone very fast, maybe travelling the four furlongs in 50 seconds or so. That would be a pretty decent maintenance workout: one that would keep him sharp before the Preakness but not take a lot out of him after his tremendous run in the Derby.
So, imagine my surprise when the report came back that he’d gone a half-mile in 47.18 seconds – a very good work for a fresh horse, much less one who had won the premier race in America just over a week ago! I spoke to Orb’s rider Jenn afterward and she had the same impression that I did: she said that she was worried that maybe Orb had gone too slowly in his exercise since he felt like he wasn’t even trying. That’s exciting stuff.
When Orb got off of the racetrack, several people remarked that he “couldn’t even blow out a match,” meaning that he wasn’t huffing or puffing at all. The workout, despite its impressiveness, took absolutely nothing out of him.
Once Orb got back to the barn, Jenn walked him around the shedrow (the covered path around the barn) a few times to let him cool out. Orb was obviously pleased with himself, and once again struck a pose for the myriad photographers there to capture his image. Jenn had a big smile on her face the entire time – she knew that she had just experienced something really special.
After Orb had cooled out a bit, it was bath time. Since it was still pretty chilly out, his caretakers kept his blanket on him so he didn’t get too cold. Orb lapped up the attention, playing and enjoying the ministrations of his grooms.
Of course, in the presence of so many photographers, he was hamming it up once again!
After his bath and some more time walking around to make sure that he was completely cool and dry, Orb was tucked back into his stall and preparations got underway for the trip to Baltimore and the Preakness. Everything from Orb’s grain and buckets to chairs and a desk were loaded onto the horse van – you’d be surprised by how much stuff goes with horses when they hit the road. They make my compulsive over-packing look positively Spartan in comparison.
Throughout it all, trainer Shug McGaughey looked on, making sure that nothing was forgotten when his prize 3-year-old put the rubber to the road.
When all of the gear was loaded, it was time for Orb to get on the van. He emerged from the barn and made his way to the 18-wheeler like a champ.
And of course Orb stopped to strike a pose once he realized that his public was still there to photograph his every move.
And then, when it was time to actually get on the van, well, Orb took one look at the ramp and dug his toes into the ground. The look on his face was priceless: it was the classic horse expression of “you want me to go WHERE?”
Fortunately after a few more misfires followed by pats and soft words from Buzz Tenny, Orb was turned in a quick circle and reapproached the ramp leading into the van.
Success! Trainer Shug McGaughey followed the colt onto the van and made sure that he was settled in for his ride to Baltimore.
After that, the van pulled out, and Orb was on his way to the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Now, I meant to get down to Pimlico and beat Orb and the van there so we could catch him unloading, but traffic had other intentions. So when I arrived in Baltimore, Orb had already unloaded and was grabbing a snack on the lush grass outside of his barn with Jenn holding his lead.
And of course, as ever, Jenn was ready with a pat for Orb whenever he picked his head up.
So that was my day shadowing the Kentucky Derby winner, and I don’t know about you but I just cannot wait until Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a horse racing fan, and I hope you get a chance to watch the race either in person or on NBC!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be back on Wednesday with my first Preakness Diary covering all of the action out of Pimlico Race Course.