Commentary

In the Travers, Orb will bounce back

Trainer Shug McGaughy is sure to have the Kentucky Derby winner in top form

Updated: August 23, 2013, 5:05 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Orb has gone from potential Triple Crown winner, potential superstar, to an afterthought in a 3-year-old division that has seen the ascendancy of Oxbow, Palace Malice and Verrazano. He hasn't done anything for anybody lately. That's true. But it seems that everyone has forgotten how good Orb was in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.

Which Orb will show up for the Travers? The very good horse who won the Kentucky Derby or the ordinary horse that was flat in the Preakness and Belmont? I think it will be the former, and if I am right Orb will win the Travers.

Orb's lackluster performances in the Preakness and the Belmont are a concern, but they can be explained.

Orb's lackluster performances in the Preakness and the Belmont are a concern, but they can be explained. This is a horse that ran two straight off-the-charts good races, in the Florida Derby and in the Kentucky Derby. As happens with most horses in the modern era after they put in huge efforts, Orb was an overtaxed horse in the final two legs of the Triple Crown. He bounced in the Preakness and wasn't yet ready to recover in the Belmont three weeks later.

Trainer Shug McGaughy is acting like he knew that. After the Belmont he retreated and decided it was time to regroup and straighten his horse out. He took the unusual step of sending him to the bucolic Fair Hill Training Center, the perfect place to go when you're looking to refresh a horse mentally and physically. Over the last three weeks Orb has worked three times, all of them, apparently, brilliant moves. Rather than risk having Orb turn in a peak effort before he wanted him to, McGaughey kept his Derby winner out of the Haskell and the Jim Dandy.

McGaughey, among the best there is in his business, circled the Travers on his calendar and put all his skills into making sure he brings over a horse on Saturday guaranteed to run his very best race. And with all that going for him, Orb is listed at 4-1 in the morning line. He's not only the pick but a great bet.

I respect Verrazano, who, after his poor showing in the Derby, has looked like the best 3-year-old in the country. His Haskell win was nothing less than phenomenal. He can win the Travers, but I'm going against him this time because he ran his A-plus race in the Haskell. That was the race trainer Todd Pletcher pointed to ever since the Derby and he had his horse razor sharp. There's every chance that Verrazano can't duplicate that effort, that this will be his bounce race.

As for Palace Malice, I underestimated this horse when he won the Jim Dandy, but remain unconvinced that he's as good as Verrazano or Orb.

And the other Travers Day stakes:

The Test: Coming off an allowance win and going against Grade 1 competition, Sweet Lulu is taking a major step up in class. She buried her competition in her three prior starts, all in California and, speed figure-wise is already as fast, if not faster, than anyone in here. Hard to imagine that Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer would ship all the way to Saratoga if he weren't ultra-confident.

The Ballston Spa: I'm going again with McGaughey, who sends out Hungry Island. The veteran mare is a bit inconsistent, but when she runs her very best she's more than good enough to beat these. This pick was made somewhat by the process of elimination as Laughing won't get the easy trip she got in the Diana, Centre Court appears to be off form and Pianist had no excuse when a weak third last out in the Dr. J at Parx.

The King's Bishop: In what is strictly a value play, the pick is No Distinction, who is 15-1 in the morning line. According to the Thoro-Graph sheets, the two fastest dirt horses in the race are No Distinction and Forty Tales, who is the 5-2 morning line favorite. For the price conscious player the pick is obvious. No Distinction won three straight on the dirt, including an impressive and fast score June 14 at Churchill. After that he ran a blah second in the Quick Call at Saratoga, but that race was on the grass, which he probably didn't like. If he runs back to his dirt form he has a big shot. There's nothing wrong with Forty Tales, who has emerged as the best 3-year-old sprinter in the country, but in a competitive 14-horse field why take the chalk?

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com

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