FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH STAKES | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16 MILES
Fast-improving Orb was golden in his stakes debut for trainer Shug McGaughey in the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth, coming from off the pace to run down odds-on choice Violence for a narrow victory Feb. 23 at Gulfstream Park.
A homebred for Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable, the winning son of Malibu Moon out of the winning Unbridled mare Lady Liberty jumped to the head of the "Road to Kentucky Derby" standings, earning 50 points for the Fountain of Youth win. Violence, winner of the CashCall Futurity and unbeaten in three prior starts, earned 20 points for his runner-up effort and moved into second in the standings with 30 points.
The Hall of Fame trainer McGaughey could have his best shot at the Derby since Easy Goer finished second to Sunday Silence in 1989.
"The strides he has made this winter are just absolutely incredible," McGaughey said of Orb.
It was the third consecutive win for Orb, who was coming off a victory in a 1 1/8-mile allowance optional $75,000 claiming event at Gulfstream in his first start of the year Jan. 26.
With a well-timed ride from John Velazquez, Orb defeated 3-5 favorite Violence by half a length while completing the 1 1/16-mile distance in a solid 1:42.24. The time was slightly better than the 1:42.30 turned in by 3-year-old filly Live Lively in winning the Davona Dale Stakes two races earlier. The winner was sent off as the second choice in the field of nine at odds of 5-1.
Leaving from the rail, Orb was allowed to relax in seventh early as Majestic Hussar jumped out to the early lead over Violence, Cerro, and Sr. Quisqueyano. Majestic Hussar increased his advantage to about 1 1/2 lengths as Violence, racing at the rail, dropped into fourth while holding his position for Velazquez.
Majestic Hussar led until late on the far turn before Javier Castellano eased out Violence, who had moved into second, for a three wide rally. Violence grabbed the lead and opened a clear margin in the stretch. But Orb, who advanced into fifth rounding the bend, circled his rivals four wide and kept charging at the head of the lane to put his head in front past the eighth pole.
Violence, who spotted the winner six pounds while carrying top weight of 122, battled back at the rail gamely before Orb inched clear in the final strides.
"There was a lot of speed and I was actually able to get right where I wanted to be pretty early," said Velazquez, who rode Orb for the first time. "I was told the horse likes to be on the outside and by the time we got on the backside I was able to switch him out and he was going along nice and smooth.
"I actually had to ride him pretty hard from the half-mile to the quarter pole to keep position and I hoped it wouldn't take anything out of him for the stretch but it actually worked out great so I was right where I wanted to be."
Quarter mile fractions were :23.11, :45.45, 1:08.85, and 1:35.37.
"I was watching on the television so I couldn't see the fractions, but when they came into the picture I said to myself, 'If they slow down he's going to catch them.' Of course, Violence kept going a bit, but I still thought we had him," McGaughey said. "When he made the lead he did the same thing he did in the allowance race here, pulling himself up a bit. But that's just being young."
Violence finished 6 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Speak Logistics, ridden by Joel Rosario.
Orb began his current winning streak with a maiden win over Withers Stakes victor Revolutionary Nov. 24 at Aqueduct Racetrack. His Fountain of Youth victory, worth $240,000, boosted Orb's earnings to $321,050 on a record of 3-0-1 in six starts.
McGaughey said it was too early to commit Orb to the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream March 30.
"I don't know what the 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," he said.
McGaughey enjoyed a big day at Gulfstream, winning the race before the Fountain of Youth, the $150,000 Canadian Turf Stakes, with Janney's grass star Data Link.
Orb paid $12.80, $4, and $3. Violence, making his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher since easily winning the CashCall Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park Dec. 15, returned $2.40 and $2.10. The exacta was worth $26.40. Speak Logistics paid $4 to show.
"We ended up being pretty close to a hot pace and as he tends to do, when he made the lead he kind of idles a little bit," Pletcher said of Violence. "His last race he did kind of the same thing where he waited on horses. You could see Orb coming with that long, sustained run and I think Violence was able to dig in pretty well actually in the stretch and we just came out on the short end."
Majestic Hussar held on fourth, followed by He's Had Enough, Cerro (IRE), Sr. Quisqueyano, Joshua's Comprise, and Elmutahid.
Falling Sky and Sky Captain scratched.