Orb took advantage of a hot pace in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes to score a half-length victory over previously undefeated Violence to win the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.The 3-year-old homebred of Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable had previously captured an entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 26.
“The strides he has made this winter are just absolutely incredible,” said trainer Shug McGaughey.
The impressive strides he made Saturday powered him to his third straight victory after going winless in the first three starts of his career, while making the son of Malibu Moon a virtual lock for a berth in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs this year has instituted a points system based on performances in designated graded stakes by which horses qualify for the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby, replacing the old process that was based on graded-stakes earnings. The victory in the Fountain of Youth earned Orb 50 points, which far exceeds estimates for qualifying for the May 4 Derby.
Winning the Kentucky Derby has been a longtime goal of Orb’s Hall of Fame trainer, who saddled Easy Goer to a second-place finish behind Sunday Silence in 1989.
“I’ve been worried about it since I started rubbing horses in 1971 or 2,” the Lexington, Ky. native said.
Orb saved ground while settling well off a torrid pace set by Majestic Hussar, who set quarter-mile fractions of :23.11, :45.45 and 1:08.85 for the first six furlongs under Luis Saez. Violence, who rated a few lengths off the pace on the backstretch after breaking well from the starting gate and saving ground around the first turn, was the first to take on Majestic Hussar leaving the backstretch. The previously undefeated 3-5 favorite challenged the pacesetter around the turn before edging away to take the lead at the top of the stretch. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt, who was ridden by Javier Castellano, was soon to be engaged by Orb, who made a sweeping move on the turn into the stretch under John Velazquez.
“There was a lot of speed and I was actually able to get right where I wanted to be,” Velazquez said. “I actually had to ride him pretty hard from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole to keep position and I hoped it wouldn’t take anything out of him for the stretch.”
Sent to post as the 5-1 second betting choice, Orb swept to the lead in mid-stretch but was not able to pull away from the favorite, who continued to fight back in vain to the finish. Speak Logistics, ridden by Joel Rosario, closed to finish third, another 6 ¾ lengths farther back. Orb covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.24.
“Violence kept going a bit, but I still thought we had him. When he made the lead, he did the same thing he did in the allowance race, pulling himself up a bit,” said McGaughey, who saddled Data Link for a popular victory in the $150,000 Canadian Turf (G3) in the race before the Fountain of Youth. “But that’s just being young.”
Violence was making his 2013 debut Saturday after winning his first three races, concluding his 2-year-old season with a two-length victory in the Grade 2 Nashua at Aqueduct and a 1 ¼-length triumph in the CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park.
“We ended up being pretty close to a hot pace and as he tends to do, when he made the lead he kind of idles a little bit. His last race he did kind of the same thing where he waited on horses,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “You could see Orb coming with that long, sustained run and I think Violence was able to dig in pretty well actually I nthe stretch and we just came out on the short end.”
McGaughey said it was too early to commit Orb to the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on March 30.
“I don’t know what the next outing will be, but we’ll see and talk to the Phipps and Stuart Janney and see what they want to do and go from there,” he said.