HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Orb made a sweeping move into the stretch and edged past previously undefeated Violence to capture his stakes debut in Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
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The Shug McGaughey-trained 3-year-old earned $240,000 for owners Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable with his half-length triumph, but more importantly, he earned a virtual lock on a start in the Kentucky Derby on May 3.
This year, Churchill Downs officials have instituted a points system based on performances in designated graded stakes by which horses can win their ways into the 20-horse Derby field, replacing the old system based on graded-stakes earnings. Orb earned 50 points for his victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, eclipsing Derby qualification estimates of 30 points.
ROAD TO DERBY :Updated Kentucky Derby points standings.
“The strides he has made this winter are just absolutely incredible,” said McGaughey, whose best Derby finish thus far in his Hall of Fame career is Easy Goer’s runner-up finish to Sunday Silence in 1989.
Ridden by John Velazquez, the 5-1 second betting choice had previously won a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 26.
While posting his third-consecutive victory after losing his first three career starts, the son of Malibu Moon settled off a fast early pace set by Majestic Hussar. Violence, the 3-5 favorite in a field of nine, was the first to challenge the pacesetter leaving the backstretch and around the final turn before taking the lead at the top of the stretch.
Benefitting from the fast early pace (six furlongs in 1:08.85), Orb kicked in with a strong run on the turn and through the stretch to hand a very game Violence his first loss.
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“You could see Orb coming with that long, sustained run,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, whose runner-up had won his first three starts, including the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park in his last start. “I think Violence was able to dig in pretty well, actually, in the stretch and we just came out on the short end.”.
Violence finished 6 ¾ lengths clear of Speak Logistics. Majestic Hussar finished two more lengths back in fourth. Orb ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.24.
“I actually had to ride him pretty hard from the half-mile pole to the quarter-pole to keep position and I hoped it wouldn’t take anything out of him for the stretch, but it worked out great,” said Velazquez, who rode Orb for the first time.
The Fountain of Youth was a prep for the Grade 1 $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 30, but McGaughey hesitated to make a commitment to the 1 1/8-mile major prep for the Kentucky Derby.
“I don’t know what his next outing will be, but we’ll see and talk to the Phipps’ and Stuart Janney and see what they want to do and go from there,” McGaughey said.