Updated on 04/02/2013 9:37AM

Florida Derby: Orb pulls away from Itsmyluckyday

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Barbara D. Livingston
Orb and jockey John Velazquez are all alone at the finish of the Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -   Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was concerned when the meet began that the speed-favoring Gulfstream Park surface might not favor a late-running horse like Orb. But the ever-improving Orb put those fears to rest not once, not twice, but three times during the session, culminating a perfect winter in south Florida by rallying to a courageous 2 3/4-length victory over the 8-5 favorite Itsmyluckyday in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby.

Orb also gave jockey John Velazquez his fifth win on the card, four of those victories coming in graded stakes. 

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]                             

Orb, who already had 50 qualifying points by virtue of winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth here last month, earned 100 more for his triumph in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and will head to Churchill Downs as one of the favorites in the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Itsmyluckyday, who entered the race with only 10 points, picked up another 40 for finishing second and is also likely on his way to the Derby. Shanghai Bobby, the reigning 2-year-old champion, finished a tiring fifth and with only 24 points is in jeopardy of not qualifying for the Derby.

Velazquez allowed Orb to run away from the gate a little more than usual, placing him within four lengths of the pacesetting Merit Man coming out of the opening turn. Merit Man set reasonable fractions of 24.74 and 48.56 seconds for the opening half-mile while stalked by Narvaez on the outside and followed closely by both Shanghai Bobby near the rail and Itsmyluckyday. 

Orb began to advance four wide on the second turn as Itsmyluckyday moved up to engage Merit Man approaching the stretch. Itsmyluckyday gained a short advantage from a stubborn Merit Man in early stretch, edged clear briefly leaving the furlong grounds,  but proved no match for Orb, who surged on strongly leaving the eighth pole to overtake the leader near midstretch before drawing well clear at the end.                                                                 

Merit Man faded after a mile but held on well enough to easily finish third, another 2 1/4 lengths behind Itsmyluckyday. Narvaez, Shanghai Bobby, Pick of the Litter, Frac Daddy, Are You Kidding Me, Indy’s Illusion,  and Pontiff completed the order of finish.

Orb, who paid $7.80 as the third choice in the field, is a homebred son of Malibu Moon owned by the partnership of Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable. Orb’s final time of 1:50.87 over the fast track was nearly two seconds slower than Dreaming of Julia covered the same 1 1/8-mile distance  winning the Gulfstream Oaks earlier on the card.

Orb has now given the Hall of Famer McGaughey his first-ever wins in Gulfstream’s two most important  races for 3-year-olds, the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby.

“I was pretty excited about today and the first Florida Derby I’ve won,” said McGaughey. “I haven’t run in that many of them, maybe only two or three. I’m just glad to see the horse take another step.”

McGaughey said he wasn’t surprised to see Orb sitting closer to the pace than usual.”

“I knew Johnny was going to try to have him closer just because there wasn’t that much speed in the race except Merit Man,” said McGaughey, who has run just one horse in the Kentucky Derby since 1989. “I thought the way he trained he could probably lay closer too. That’s why I was so pleased with his race last time. Even though we got a fast pace, sometimes you catch a fast pace here and you can’t catch up. And he does have a long run. It surprises me how long it is.”

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said he was happy with the way Itsmyluckyday ran, even in defeat, and by the fact he has now earned enough points to most likely earn him a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.

“My horse ran his race. He got outrun today,” said Plesa. “Orb ran a fantastic race. We finished second and it gets us in the [Kentucky] Derby. That was our goal. Naturally we would have loved to have won but we’ll come back and see what happens next time.”

Todd Pletcher said he thought having post 1 might have compromised Shanghai Bobby’s chances with Rosie Napravnik aboard.

“It got a little crowded going into the first turn. She had to grab him a bit. That’s why you hate drawing that post. She said he never leveled off in that scenario,” said Pletcher.

- additional reporting by David Grening