The Belmont Orb

- -

Down to hours. Another roiling Triple Crown tour comes to an end. The stories, the sorrows, the dreams, the nightmares. Shug won his first Derby. Gary Stevens won his first classic since returning from a seven-year hiatus. 

No Triple Crown, it’s the next best thing with Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow (and 12 others) settling things on the racetrack, in today’s Belmont Stakes. Who says today’s owners and trainers are too conservative? Fourteen horses, including a filly and a 13-length winner of the Peter Pan. It’s horse racing. Horses race today.

Immediately after getting rocked in the Preakness, Shug McGaughey said he would like to run in the Belmont. You want old school? Old school is to run back, settle it in the afternoon. Orb aims to avenge his dull performance in the Preakness. The leggy son of Malibu Moon returned to his home base at Belmont, breezed an easy half-mile June 2 and has put air back into the balloon.

“The one thing I want everybody to know is we weren’t ever looking for a reason not to run, we were looking for reasons to run,” McGaughey said. “I wanted to see he got over the Preakness, that he was going the right way. He worked to my liking, just like he did before the Preakness. He came out of it really well, I walked him out of the stall and he liked to run over top of me. All systems are go.”

McGaughey has been saying that all spring, as Orb developed into a premier member of this year’s 3-year-old crop. He’s won five of his last six. The only blemish coming in the Preakness when Stevens walked the dog with Oxbow, clogging Orb and everybody else behind him and sprinting for the plane when the rest were still in the security line.

McGaughey blames himself and circumstances for that debacle.

“I misjudged the race, we got the 1 post and I had to make light of it, but I thought the pace would be quicker than it was and the race would spread out, where we could get a better position,” McGaughey said. “When they backed it up as much as they did, when (Kevin) Krigger took back, and why he took back I don’t know, so, we’re 3-5, we’re down in there and they’re not letting him out, the rail was dead, the track was loose and it was Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens and Oxbow’s day and it wasn’t our day.”

McGaughey thinks today will be their day. Fourteen horses line up, Orb drew post 5. Oxbow breaks two slots to his outside. Ken McPeek says he’s sending Frac Daddy from the rail. Repole Stable throws three into the blender, including filly Unlimited Budget and longshot Midnight Taboo. Orb, who wound up 2 lengths behind Oxbow leaving the backside in the Preakness, won’t sit that close. Jockey Joel Rosario will try to engineer the same trip he managed to perfection in the Derby, relaxing, clearing and closing.

“I think he naturally will run this far. I don’t think it has to be a grinder by any means, it’s a horse who’s going to have to wait on his rider and the rider is going to have to read the race really well as it sets up, have a game plan and try not to divert from it, but be able to divert from it if something bizarre happens,” McGaughey said. “The ideal scenario is a fast pace where we drop out of it and get a clear position outside horses, and they start backing up when he’s making his run, I think he can position himself where he wants to be, the rider is going to have to really read the race and be patient. Belmont Park, going a mile and a half is a big racetrack.”

For McGaughey and Team Orb, the Triple Crown journey can be divided into segments. Some good, some bad, some still undefined.

Six months of anticipation leading to the Derby, two minutes of justification during the Derby, two weeks of euphoria before the Preakness, two minutes of devastation in the Preakness, three weeks of trepidation before the Belmont. Now, the 145th Belmont Stakes, mile and a half, once around Big Sandy, for a million dollars.

McGaughey, calling on years of perspective, has kept his perspective.

“I’ve played this thing for a long time, I’ve been involved in a lot of big races, I’ve won some and lost some. A few times, we’ve won races we weren’t supposed to win,” McGaughey said. “When we started out this thing, we were looking to the Derby and not beyond it. We got lucky and won it. It just wasn’t our day at Pimlico. And hopefully maybe this Saturday will be our day. I think we belong, we’re the morning line favorite, there’s something that makes him that.”

– Watch the Kentucky Derby here.

– Watch the Preakness here.