When Orb stormed home to win Saturday's Kentucky Derby, speculation immediately began about the possibility of snapping the 35-year Triple Crown drought. He will head next to Baltimore for the May 18 Preakness and if he can prove successful at Pimlico, the 1 «-mile Belmont Stakes on June 8 should be right up his alley.
Orb entered the Kentucky Derby as the best prospect for a Triple Crown this year due to the combination of his quality and breeding. He established himself as a top 3-year-old with wins in the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth and possesses a regal pedigree, indeed.
His sire, Malibu Moon, is a son of the great A.P. Indy and rates an excellent source of stamina (Orb is his fourth offspring to a win major race at 1 ¬ miles). Orb's dam, Lady Liberty, won at 1 « miles. She is a daughter of Unbridled, winner of the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic.
The breeding fits and Orb appears to tower over the 3-year-old division.
He easily proved best in the Derby, closing widest of all on the far turn before rolling home in mud-soaked fashion, and the comfortable 2 1/2-length margin could've been greater - Orb momentarily lost interest in deep stretch because he was alone.
The powerful bay colt has now won five straight since breaking his maiden at Aqueduct in late November.
Shug McGaughey was asked his thoughts about bringing Orb back on two weeks' rest in the Preakness.
"Frankly, I can't wait," the Hall of Fame trainer said.
There's reason for optimism: Derby winners often bounce forward in the Preakness, with 12 horses winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown since Affirmed's last sweep in 1978. Unfortunately, three races over a three-week span, coupled with the extreme distance of the Belmont Stakes or injury, has done them all in.
Orb's connections will be looking forward with confidence if he gets past the 1 3/16-mile Preakness because he's based at Belmont Park and should relish the trip.
Golden Soul overcame his 34-1 odds and marginal form to finish second in the Derby, but he appears unlikely to reproduce that performance in upcoming Triple Crown events. Little separated the next three finishers, with only about a neck between Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion and Mylute (third through fifth, respectively).
Orb was much the best. He benefited from a blistering early pace that set the Derby up for closers, running 17th among 19 rivals with only a half-mile remaining, but he's shown the ability to adapt and race closer to the action when it's slow up front. He's steadily improved in every win and may have more room in his ceiling.
"I still think there's something there," McGaughey said when asked if we've seen Orb's best yet. "I think there's more there. I don't think we've bottomed out. I think he's still learning how to run a little bit."
Orb is only one-third of the way home, but his Derby victory offers hope for a Triple Crown.