It was the equine equivalent of a mic drop.
Grade I winner Orb effectively threw down the gauntlet to his fellow Kentucky Derby contenders Monday morning when he effortlessly coasted through a four furlong breeze in 47:80 over the Churchill Downs main track.
Working in company with stablemate Overwhelming, the two broke off on even terms with exercise rider Jen Patterson up on Orb and his Derby jockey Joel Rosario on his workmate. Without being asked, Orb clocked splits of 12, 23.80, 35.80 galloping out five furlongs in 1:00.80 and six furlongs in 1:14.60. The son of Malibu Moon finished about four lengths in front and continued to widen that margin during the gallop out, prompting a huge smile from Patterson as they came off the track.
“I mean he left his workmate pretty easily and finished up well,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “He has had a little bit of a tendency in his races to sort of when he made the lead, he thought he had done enough so we wanted him to kind of finish on by that horse today and he did that.
“From day one that he got here, I’ve been happy with what I saw. I was hoping this was what I would see. He dropped his head and walked home the way you’d want him to and really didn’t break a sweat. (Jen) felt like she never was really out of a high gallop.”
Owned and bred by Stuart Janney and Phipps Stables, Orb has repeatedly left McGaughey impressed during his progression in recent months. After winning the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes over Grade I winner Violence, Orb came back and handled one of the better fields on the prep trail this year when he won the Grade I Florida Derby on March 30.
“I think it’s going even better than the way I wanted this week,” McGaughey said. “As of right now I’ve got no qualms. I’m excited, really excited. I have been since the Florida Derby.”
Fellow Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas also sent his Derby contenders out for their final serious moves Monday. Grade III winner Oxbow worked five furlongs in a bullet :59.80 while Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge went the same distance in 1:01.00.
Also Monday, trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that he will not start either Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie or Risen Star runner-up Code West in the Kentucky Derby, making this the first year since 2008 the Hall of Famer he will not have a starter in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Todd Pletcher also confirmed Monday he would not start Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes winner Winning Cause in the Kentucky Derby, leaving the five-time Eclipse Award winner with a roster of five starters.
“He worked very well today (four furlongs in 48.20) but after speaking the owners we decided we would not start,” Pletcher said. “Just felt like this would be his third race in a month and the proper thing to do for the horse was sit back.”
With the defections of Govenor Charlie, Code West and Winning Cause, Tiz a Minister and Golden Soul are now 19th and 20th in the points standings to get into the Kentucky Derby field.