Orb won the Kentucky Derby on May 4 but had his Triple Crown hopes dashed when he finished fourth in the Preakness Stakes (Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey limited his thinking to one race at a time as he prepared Orb for the Triple Crown series. He immediately shifted to the big picture once his first Kentucky Derby champion finished a disappointing fourth in the Preakness Stakes.
McGaughey sounds as though he remains decidedly undecided about whether to go on to the June 8 Belmont Stakes. “We would like to have the opportunity to run,” he said on Saturday morning at Belmont Park, “but we don’t want to do anything to compromise the second half of the year. That is one of the things we’ve got to think about.”
The native of Lexington, Ky., built his accomplished career around the belief that the horse must ultimately guide the trainer. He will scrutinize the way Orb is eating, training and acting to tell him what is best.
He is encouraged by what he is observing. “He looks good. His energy level has been good,” McGaughey said.
He noted, however, that he has asked Orb to do very little in the morning since recent heavy rain led to sloppy training surfaces. With good weather forecast for the upcoming week, he expects more strenuous morning exercise to be more telling.
“I keep waiting to see him maybe hit a roadblock,” McGaughey said. “So far, I haven’t seen it.”
If all continues to go well, he will work the son of Malibu Moon next Sunday morning at his home base of Belmont Park. “If I breeze him next Sunday, I probably plan on running. I’ll get him race ready with that,” he said. “But if he doesn’t work to my satisfaction, I definitely won’t run him.”
McGaughey emphasized that the Travers, on Aug. 24 at Saratoga Race Course, is among his primary targets. “It’s something I would rather not jeopardize,” he said. “But I’m not going to stay home just to point to the Travers because you can never tell what could happen in the next two months.”
The Preakness marked Orb’s fifth start this season in a campaign that began Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. The youngster made four starts last year. If the 3-year-old competes in the Belmont, McGaughey believes he would train him up to the Travers rather than send him into the Jim Dandy, the traditional prep for the Travers.
“I like to use races (to prepare), but I don’t have to,” he said, adding that the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic highlight his plans for Orb as summer shifts to autumn.
As for the ill-fated Preakness, won by pacesetting Oxbow after he and comebacking jockey Gary Stevens got away with soft fractions, McGaughey believes his cause was hurt badly when Orb, with jockey Joel Rosario, drew the rail. “I said when we got the post that I thought there would be pace. There wan’t,” he said. “When that happens, the horses bunch up more, so we were stuck down inside.
“We held our position there. I don’t think that was the right place to be, but we couldn’t get out. I think it was deep down inside and he was spinning his wheels. If he had drawn the six or seven post, we would have been out there and the result might have been different.”
McGaughey knows it is time to move on. The key is determining the best way to do that.