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Features - RACING

Trainer Shug McGaughey (right) leads Orb into the Kentucky Derby winner's circle. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Thoroughbred trainers are required to make key decisions with their horses on a daily basis. Their careers hinge on how many they get right.

Shug McGaughey got enough of them right to earn a place in the Hall of Fame. And he pushed all of the correct buttons when Orb presented him with a Kentucky Derby triumph on the first Saturday in May to fill in one of the few missing pieces on his résumé.

McGaughey was called on to make one of the bigger decisions of his career after Oxbow ran off with the Preakness to dash Orb’s chance for a Triple Crown. Should he run Orb in the Belmont or keep him on the sidelines and turn an immediate eye toward the autumn campaign and ultimately the Breeders’ Cup?

When the native of Lexington, Ky., assessed his options in late May, he noted that the tradeoff would likely involve skipping the Jim Dandy and training up to the Travers. He ran Orb in the 1 ½-mile Belmont, got a solid third-place finish, and has been doing everything possible since then to help the 3-year-old recover from the Triple Crown grind of competing three times in five weeks.

McGaughey’s decision making will either be applauded or second-guessed. It all depends on how the Kentucky Derby champion performs in the 144th running of the $1 million Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

The trainer acknowledges that the schedule took a toll. Orb was sent from his regular training base at New York’s Belmont Park to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. He was given two weeks off in that pastoral setting before he resumed his morning exercise.

“I think when we put him on the van to go to Fair Hill the day after the Belmont, he was pretty spent,” McGaughey said.

He said Orb looked like a different horse when he rejoined him at Saratoga on Aug. 11.

“He’s got a different look to him,” he said. “He’s heavier, but I think he’s heavier because he put on muscle weight more than just fat. He’s been really traveling well here.”

ORB: DEVELOPMENT OF A DERBY VICTOR

Orb showed in the Derby that the 1 ¼-mile distance is not an issue for him when he is in top form. But can he meet those demands off such an extended layoff?

“I don’t think fitness will be a problem,” McGaughey said. “I never really did think that coming out of the Belmont, when I decided to run him straight to the Travers. I thought I could have him ready to run.”

Another question is whether Orb, the third choice at 4-to-1 in the morning line, can possibly be as sharp as Verrazano, the 2-to-1 favorite, or Palace Malice, the 5-to-2 second  choice. Both are trained by Todd Pletcher and enter the Travers off huge prep wins.

Verrazano staged a sizzling performance in the Haskell. Belmont victor Palace Malice used the Jim Dandy to give him his second win at this track.

“I know Palace Malace and Verrazano’s prep races were as good as you can walk,” McGaughey said. “The reason I didn’t run him in a prep race is I thought we were moving forward fast, and I didn’t want to take a chance on running him and maybe knocking him out a little bit and taking a step backward.” 

As unconventional as the approach is, McGaughey’s track record suggests it just might work.

$1 million Travers Stakes

Saturday, Saratoga Race Course, Race 12, 5:46 p.m. ET

3-year-olds, 1 1/4 miles (dirt)

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Romansh

Javier Castellano

Tom Albertrani

12-1

2

Orb

Joel Rosario

Shug McGaughey

4-1

3

Verrazano

John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher

2-1

4

Golden Soul

Robby Albarado

Dallas Stewart

20-1

5

Will Take Charge

Luis Saez

D. Wayne Lukas

10-1

6

Moreno

Jose Ortiz

Eric Guillot

12-1

7

War Dancer

Alan Garcia

Kenny McPeek

15-1

8

Palace Malice

Mike Smith

Todd Pletcher

5-2

9

Transparent

Irad Ortiz Jr.

Kiaran McLaughlin

10-1

All carry 126 pounds.

EXPERIENCE FAIR HILL

Veterinarian Kathleen Anderson and trainer Michael Matz discuss the benefits of training racehorses at Fair Hill Training Center. The picturesque grounds at the Elkton, Md., facility provide an ideal setting for a racehorse to develop and flourish. Situated on 350 acres in Cecil County, Fair Hill boasts dirt, synthetic, and turf tracks as well as miles of trails, on-site veterinary care, and state-of-the-art equipment. 

FAIR HILL: ALL OF THE AMENITIES

Dr. Bruce Jackson explains the benefits of Fair Hill’s cold salt spa in this segment.

FAIR HILL: UNDERWATER TREADMILL

Bruce Jackson, director of Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center, explains the benefits of the underwater treadmill for horses recovering from injury. Jackson’s facility is based at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.

FAIR HILL: HYPERBARIC CHAMBER

Bruce Jackson, director of Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center, discusses the healing advantages of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in equine therapy and rehabilitation. Jackson’s Elkton, Maryland, facility offers the benefits of a hyperbaric chamber.

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