Shug McGaughey has won some of the most prestigious races in history but one event has always eluded his grasp. The Kentucky native has never won the Kentucky Derby.
His closest finish came in 1989 when Easy Goer finished second to Sunday Silence. Not one to send a horse into the "Run for the Roses" just for the sake of being there, McGaughey has had just one starter since Easy Goer - Saarland, who ran 10th in 2002.
This year is different as Orb has stamped himself as one of the leading contenders. Nevertheless, he had some trouble getting into the winner's circle as a 2-year-old. In fact, he finished off-the-board in two of his first three starts. It wasn't until Nov. 24 when he broke his maiden in the second race at Aqueduct.
That was Orb's fourth career start. Interestingly enough, another horse that needed four races to break its maiden also ran in that event. His name? Revolutionary.
Orb was sent off as the 9-2 second choice that day as Revolutionary was hammered down to 3-10. The heavy favorite was mugged at the start by Transparent and stayed on the rail the entire race. Orb took the overland route running six-wide approaching the final turn and into the stretch.
Orb wound up winning by two lengths with Revolutionary 4 1/4 lengths behind in third. It is ironic that a winter maiden race at Aqueduct could possibly produce two of the top three Kentucky Derby betting choices but that is exactly how it might play out.
Both colts have won every race since that day with Orb winning four straight and Revolutionary taking three in a row. They also won their respective stakes races this past Saturday with Orb wearing down Itsmyluckyday through the stretch to take the 64th running of the Florida Derby and Revolutionary defeating Mylute by a neck in the 100th Louisiana Derby.
Orb had the more difficult assignment of the two since Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby both needed points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Still, the son of Malibu Moon easily prevailed by 2 3/4-lengths.
The one negative was the time. It took Orb 1:50 4/5 seconds to run the 1 1/8- mile race. Earlier on the card, older stakes fillies and mares ran nine furlongs in 1:50, and 3-year-old filly Dreaming of Julia went the distance in 1:48 4/5 while winning the Gulfstream Oaks by over 20 lengths!
Orb ran much closer to the pace than he had in any of his previous races. If the early pacesetters in the Kentucky Derby hit the first half-mile in 46 and change, he will be right there at the finish. Don't forget, he still ran his final three-eighths in 37 3/5 seconds so he can come home with the best of them.
Revolutionary finished his 1 1/8-mile event in 1:50 1/5, which also was on the slow side. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt benefited from a fast early pace that saw the leaders collapse through the stretch. In fact, three of the top four finishers were 11th, 12th and 14th after the first half-mile.
The son of War Pass ran his final three furlongs in 38 seconds, which included a 25 2/5 quarter-mile into the stretch. However, he showed his gameness in the final sixteenth passing Mylute after that horse looked as if he would stroll right by.
Both Orb and Revolutionary have similar running styles and are bred to get the 1 1/4-mile distance. So even though the final times were not stellar, they should not be downgraded since most of the final times in this year's prep races have not been eye-popping. The only one that was (Sunland Park Derby) came over a blistering fast track that saw two other horses break track records.
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Verrazano - Most impressive 3-year-old colt to date.
2) Orb - Toyed with the field in Florida Derby.
3) Revolutionary - Getting hot at just the right time.
4) Flashback - Ten-furlong distance is a major question mark.
5) Normandy Invasion - Must finish first or second in Wood.
6) Vyjack - Will not be undefeated after this Saturday.
7) Governor Charlie - Won in Sunland against very weak field.
8) Hear the Ghost - San Felipe winner needs to show more.
9) War Academy - Arkansas Derby is next for recent winner.
10) Uncaptured - Solid effort in Spiral off long layoff.
11) Itsmyluckyday - Spit the bit versus Orb at Gulfstream.
12) Black Onyx - Won three of last four, including Spiral.