03/31/2013 2:41PM

Florida Derby winner Orb will head to Kentucky Derby in peak form

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Barbara D. Livingston
Orb earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his Florida Derby victory.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -   Trainer Shug McGaughey was still basking in the glow of his first Florida Derby victory the morning after Orb rallied to a convincing two-length victory over Itsmyluckyday under jockey John Velazquez in the Grade 1 stakes  that highlighted an outstanding day of racing Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

McGaughey reported that Orb came out of the race as sharp as he went in and that all systems are go for the Hall of Fame trainer’s second Kentucky Derby bid in the last 24 years. Orb matched his Beyer Speed Figure for his Fountain of Youth victory in the Florida Derby with a 97.

“He seems to have bounced out of the race really well,” McGaughey said by phone early Sunday morning from Orb’s winter home at Payson Park. “It’s surprising how well he’s come out of all his races.”

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

McGaughey said he had a few anxious moments during the running of the Florida Derby when it appeared Orb might be backing up after making a run at the leaders on the final turn.

“Around the turn, he kind of backed up a bit but Johnny said that was him steadying the horse a bit because he was jumping into it a little quicker than he wanted,” said McGaughey. “Overall, I was very impressed and very pleased with what I saw from him yesterday.”

McGaughey said he also wasn’t too concerned over the fact Orb washed out quite a bit in the post parade prior to the race.

“That’s just him,” said McGaughey. “He did a little bit in the Fountain of Youth too. It’s not an easy family. I told Stuart [Janney III] in the winner’s circle he’s got a little family in him. I’d have been more worried in the paddock if he hadn’t gotten on his toes a little bit because he did in the Fountain of Youth. We might work with that a little bit, when we go to Louisville we’ll probably school him two or three times.”

McGaughey said he will likely leave Orb at Payson Park for the next couple of weeks before moving him to Kentucky, where he could spend a week at Keeneland before taking up residence at Churchill Downs to complete preparations for the Kentucky Derby.

“For now we’ll stick with the game plan that has worked so well and leave him right here at Payson,” said McGaughey.

The only real problem McGaughey could encounter over the next five weeks is the jockey situation as he has yet to have gotten a commitment from Velazquez for the Derby. Velazquez is also the regular rider for the undefeated Verrazano, who will have his final Derby prep Saturday at Aqueduct in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

“We’ll deal with the jockey issue after the Wood,” said McGaughey. “It was something I knew going in, so we’ll just wait and see how things sort out. Obviously we hope Johnny can ride him, but we’ll have to see how Verrazano and Vyjack run in the Wood. We also have Ramon [Dominguez] sitting on the sidelines as well.”

McGaughey was quick to credit his whole team for Orb’s success here this winter, specifically regular exercise rider Jennifer Patterson.

“I want to thank all my help for the job they’ve done but especially Jenn for all the trips she made up here to Payson to get on him and then for staying up here with him the last two weeks prior to the Florida Derby,” said McGaughey.

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. was also all smiles on Sunday morning despite the fact his Itsmyluckyday came out second best as the 8-5 favorite in the Florida Derby.

“The most important thing is that our horse came out of the race 110 percent,” Plesa said from his Calder base on Sunday. “He had no excuses yesterday. The winner beat him fair and square. He was the best horse this time. But I said to my partners we have to remember what the goal was and the reason we gave him such a long break [eight weeks] between races. That even though we would have loved to have won the Florida Derby, it was just a stepping-stone to our primary goal which is the Kentucky Derby.”

Itsmyluckyday picked up 40 points for his second-place finish in the Florida Derby, virtually assuring himself a spot in the starting gate on Derby Day.

Plesa said Itsmyluckyday will do most of his major work for  the Kentucky Derby at Calder before shipping to Churchill Downs “about a week before the race.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher reported all was well on Sunday with Shanghai Bobby, who finished a disappointing fifth in the Florida Derby.

“He came out of the race fine,” Pletcher said. “We had a little bit of a difficult trip inside. We had some tactics that we laid out and tried to follow them and they didn’t work out.”

Pletcher said it was too early to make a decision as to what would be next for Shanghai Bobby and that he would remain at Palm Meadows until any definitive plans were made.

Merit Man also came out of his third-place finish as the Florida Derby pacesetter in good order, trainer Bob Hess said on Sunday.

“I am very proud of the horse,” said Hess. “I don’t really know where we go from here. We’ll look at all the options with the most likely ones being the Woody Stephens, the Peter Pan, or the Preakness.”