Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who arrived at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 11, turned in a four-furlong breeze over the Oklahoma training track on Monday for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Travers.
Breezing for the first time since his arrival at the Spa, Orb was clocked in 47.68 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 seconds with exercise rider Jennifer Patterson aboard. The workout was the fastest of 31 at the distance on the Oklahoma training track.
“I thought he worked a nice, sharp half-mile,” said Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who trains Orb for Stuart S. Janney, III and Phipps Stable. “Everything is going the right way. His work at Fair Hill [on August 10] was great. He shipped up here in really good order and hasn’t missed a beat.”
“His stride, when he’s right, is so big, and he does things so easily,” added Patterson. “He always fools me with his times when he’s right, because I just feel like we’re galloping around there. I had that feeling again this morning, which is really nice.”
After giving McGaughey his first Grade 1 Kentucky Derby victory, Orb finished a non-threatening fourth in the Grade 1 Preakness and third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. He recuperated and trained at Fair Hill in Maryland from mid-June until he was shipped to Saratoga.
“I think the time off after the Belmont kind of helped mature him more, like he did over the winter,” said McGaughey. “We were just trying to get him back where we wanted him. I thought the Fair Hill thing really worked well for him, the different therapies and being able to be [outside]. They kept him out for a long time. Even sometimes the night watchman would get him out and graze him. I think that experiment worked very well. I think he’s more of a horse now [than he was immediately after the Belmont Stakes]. When he got off the van here, I thought I saw things where he kind of matured as a horse.”
McGaughey believes Orb, a son of Malibu Moon, is ready for a top effort in the Travers, which could play a large role in determining Champion Three-Year-Old Male honors.
“Obviously, we’re in the race to win, but if we get a really solid effort then that would be fine, too,” said McGaughey. “I think he’ll be awful tough.”
Orb’s competition in the Travers is expected to include Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner Verrazano from the barn of Todd Pletcher.
“They’re the proven horses,” said McGaughey of Pletcher’s pair. “Palace Malice won the Belmont and came back and ran a big race in the Jim Dandy. Verrazano has been a ‘now’ horse since he ran the first time. The only blemish he has on his record is in the Derby, and he has come back and run two solid races down at Monmouth, so I would have to think he’s going to be very tough, too.”