While Tampa Bay Derby winner Verrazano and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice were prepping impressively for today's Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, Orb took a vacation.
Following a third-place finish at the Belmont Stakes in June, the Kentucky Derby winner spent two months at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. Orb walked and grazed, received cold-water spa treatment and made several visits to a hyperbaric chamber for therapeutic purposes.
Now he is ready to go. Today, Orb can become the first Kentucky Derby winner to win the Mid-Summer Derby since Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense in 2007. Another Tampa Bay Downs graduate, Verrazano, is expected to be one of Orb's main rivals at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"Verrazano has been kind of a talk horse all year since he broke his maiden this winter at Gulfstream (Park in Hallandale Beach)," Orb trainer Shug McGaughey said. "The only loss on his record was at the (Kentucky) Derby, and that could have been because of a sloppy track."
Orb, son of Malibu Moon, drew post 2 in Race 12 (5:46 p.m.) with jockey Joel Rosario. Nine 3-year-olds were entered. Orb was the favorite in all three Triple Crown races but came up short in the Preakness Stakes (fourth) and Belmont. McGaughey, a three-time winner of the Travers (he last won in 1998), said his Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth winner is rejuvenated.
"He's got a different look to him," McGaughey said. "He's mentally very strong right now, and physically he got a lot stronger. I think we've got a better horse than we had earlier in the year. Our little experiment at Fair Hill really worked to his advantage."
Verrazano (post 3) is the 2-1 morning-line choice with jockey John Velazquez. He has won his past two races, including the Haskell Invitational on July 28 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. Palace Malice (post 8) also has captured his past two starts and comes off a victory in the Jim Dandy on July 27 at Saratoga. Mike Smith has the riding assignment. Todd Pletcher trains both colts.
Simulcast wagering on the 144th Travers, a Grade I $1 million test at 1¼ miles, is available at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, the Downs in Oldsmar and Tampa Greyhound Track.