Orb draws away to book his ticket for Kentucky in the Florida DerbyPICTURE: EquiSport Photos/Joe Ganley
Orb takes starring
role in Florida Derby
Report: USA, Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Florida Derby (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo
ORB (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez) will go to Churchill Downs as a major contender for the Kentucky Derby after overpowering Itsmyluckyday in the Florida Derby, the first of this year's Grade 1 trials.
The $1 million event may have seen the ending of the Derby dreams of Shanghai Bobby after the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner faded in the closing stages to finish a dismal fifth under Rosie Napravnik.
Although Gulfstream habitually favours speed, Orb is more of a late-running type, and Saturday's race was the third time he has managed to overcome the bias as he completed a hat-trick at the Florida track this winter, having also taken the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.
Sent off 5-2, Orb was ridden by John Velazquez, who rode five winners on Saturday's card - four of them in graded stakes.
The son of Malibu Moon was settled in midpack behind Merit Man, who made the pace pressed by Narvaez with Shanghai Bobby just behind on the inner.
The two-year-old champion cried enough on the far turn, where Merit Man was joined by 17-10 favourite Itsmyluckyday, who got a length in front halfway through the stretch only to be run down by Orb inside the final furlong. Orb scored going away by 2¾ lengths in a time of 1m50.87s.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is now looking forward to the Kentucky Derby, a race in which the 62-year-old has only ever saddled half-a-dozen previous runners.
"The Derby is my dream, but we never tried to overdo it," McGaughey said. "Hopefully, this is the one who can take us there but I'm pretty excited about the first Florida Derby I've ever won."
Recent Florida Derby victors have included subsequent Kentucky winners Monarchos, Barbaro and Big Brown.
Shanghai Bobby's trainer Todd Pletcher suggested his colt had been crowded from the inside gate. In the event of a maximum 20-runner field at Churchill Downs, he is unlikely to get a run as he hasn't accrued enough points via the new qualification system.
Also on Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Gulfstream Oaks (Grade 2) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo fillies
Carrying the Rachel Alexandra colours, Dreaming Of Julia (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) annihilated her rivals by 21¾ lengths to put herself in pole position for the Kentucky Oaks.
The daughter of A.P. Indy blew past Live Lively, who had beaten her last month, on the far turn before powering away. Under no pressure from her rider, she stopped the clock in 1m48.97s - much faster than the Florida Derby - in a devastating display.
Gulfstream Park: Rampart Stakes (Grade 3) 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m
Sent off 2-5 favourite, Michael Tabor's Ciao Bella (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) went wire-to-wire for her first graded stakes victory. The four-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway went in by 4½ lengths after setting soft early fractions.