Friday, November 24, 2017
Sports

Orb gets favorite status in Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With rain in the forecast and a 19-horse field for today's Kentucky Derby, the prevailing view is that a week of talk about which horse will go to the Preakness with his Triple Crown dream alive won't mean much by the time the race ends.

"I don't mind talking about the race, hoping that people will read the stories and get interested in the sport," said Shug McGaughey, who trains Orb, the 7-2 favorite on the morning line. "But there's only so much I can say about it at this point, and I always hope nobody remembers what it was once the race is run."

Orb's connections appear to be the sentimental choice of many fans at Churchill Downs, where McGaughey raced Derby favorite Easy Goer to second place in 1989. He has been back only once since.

"Never would have convinced me back then it would go that way," said Orb, 62. "I was young. Thought it'd just happen."

Orb was bred and is owned by Stuart Janney III, whose parents bred and raced the filly Ruffian, and the Phipps Stable, led by Janney's cousin Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps. Their family has been racing horses for more than a hundred years.

McGuaghey and Janney have never teamed for a Derby mount. Phipps had one in 1989. They've said their philosophy on raising race horses dictates patience early, and they rarely aim to even nudge their horses toward the Triple Crown trail.

Orb was just too good.

"It all went how it had to go," McGaughey said. "It doesn't go that way too often, obviously."

The National Weather Service on Friday predicted a 70 percent chance of rain for Derby day, with accumulation up to half an inch.

Vyjack and Itsmyluckyday are the only horses in the field to win stakes races over a wet track. Both are 15-1 choices on the morning line.

"I've been saying the same thing all along," said Itsmyluckyday trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "I just want everybody to have a fair chance to win."

A Daily Racing Form metric that examines the performance of a horse's sire and broodmare sire while running on wet tracks identified these five, in order, as having the most promising mud-running pedigree: D. Wayne Lukas' Oxbow (30-1), Chad Brown's Normandy Invasion (12-1), Todd Pletcher's Revolutionary (10-1), Lukas' Will Take Charge (20-1) and Orb.

Orb has probably the hottest jockey in the country. Joel Rosario has won more than a third of his past 130 races. Second-favorite Verrazano (4-1) — one of five horses in the race trained by Pletcher — will be ridden by John Velazquez, who took Orb to the Florida Derby winner's circle at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach but opted to stay with the undefeated winner of the Wood Memorial.

Velazquez did not ride for most of April after fracturing a rib and chipping a wrist bone during a spill the day after the Wood. The winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom returned to racing this week.

Long shot Black Onyx was scratched for the race because of a chip in his left ankle. The scratch occurred after early wagering had opened, so Black Onyx's No. 1 post position will be left empty. The remaining horses will stay in their original starting gate positions.

The scratch also happened after the deadline for also-eligible Fear the Kitten to enter the race.

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