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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Florida Derby preparation finds Orb in perfect spot

INDIANTOWN, Fla. – One visit to Payson Park and it’s easy to see why Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has used the training center located approximately 90 miles north of Gulfstream Park as his major base of operations in south Florida for the past 30 years.

One horse who has enjoyed the wide-open spaces and crisp, clean air at Payson Park as much as any this winter has been Orb. Already virtually assured of a spot in this year’s Kentucky Derby field as a result of the 50 points he earned for his victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Orb will go off among the favorites along with Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby.

With co-owner Dinny Phipps in attendance, Orb had his final tune-up for the Florida Derby on Monday morning at Payson, breezing four furlongs under regular exercise rider Jenn Patterson in 48.89 seconds in company with stablemate Overwhelming. The pair went along as a team through a 24.68-second opening quarter-mile, with Orb asserting his superiority through the final furlong, finishing willingly without the need of any encouragement before galloping out a strong five-eighths in 1:01.29. He barely took a deep breath upon returning to the barn several minutes later, looking fresh, cool, and like he could go right back out and do it all over again.

“I was tickled to death with the work,” said McGaughey. “He was just galloping, I thought he galloped out really, really well. I think we’re in good shape.”

McGaughey said being at Payson has been a big plus for Orb, who he says has grown and gotten even stronger since his victory in the Fountain of Youth.

“I think it’s really helped him since he shipped down for the winter,” said McGaughey. “I could see the difference the first time we worked him here. And the conditions are so good. It was already 77 degrees and humid when I left home early this morning, and now it’s at least 10 degrees cooler with no humidity at all.”

Although Orb is among the favorites for both the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, neither McGaughey nor his owner are looking beyond the Florida Derby just yet.

“I’m one who doesn’t get Derby fever,” said Phipps, who owns Orb in partnership with Stuart Janney III. “I won’t have any thoughts about that until we see what happens on Saturday. We’ll know after Saturday how good he is. We’re not going to go to the Derby unless we think he belongs. I don’t want to run in the Derby just to be an also-ran.”

Orb was the last of the big three for the Florida Derby to have their final tune-ups over the weekend. Itsmyluckyday breezed an easy four furlongs over his home base at Calder on Saturday, while Shanghai Bobby went five-eighths in 1:00.77 in company with stablemate Palace Malice at Palm Meadows on Sunday morning. The team posted slow early fractions of 13.70 and 26.02 seconds before shading 35 for their final three furlongs, with Palace Malice about a half-length best at the wire. Shanghai Bobby galloped out three to four lengths behind Palace Malice after six furlongs in 1:14.01.

“I thought he worked well, consistent with what he normally does,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of Shanghai Bobby. “He’s not an overzealous work horse. But I thought we got a good tightener, and everything’s gone according to schedule.”

Palace Malice is also scheduled to have his final Kentucky Derby prep on Saturday, in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

It appears a field of nine is likely when the Florida Derby is drawn on Wednesday. The other 3-year-olds expected to enter are Frac Daddy, Pick of the Litter, Merit Man, Pontiff, Are You Kidding Me, and Narvaez.

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