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Orb takes on juggernaut Pletcher pair in Travers
|Orb will try to return to the form that saw him capture the Kentucky Derby in Saturday's Travers
(Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
Orb stamped himself as leader of the three-year-old division with an easy win
in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, but subsequent losses in the
Preakness and Belmont saw the Malibu Moon colt slip in the ranks as other
sophomores threw their hat in for an Eclipse Award.
On Saturday, the bay colt has the perfect opportunity to reassert his claim
on championship honors when facing eight rivals in the Grade 1, $1 million
going the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga. Standing in Orb's way are
the Todd Pletcher-trained powerhouse duo of Palace Malice and Verrazano.
Orb drew post 2 in the Travers, and will have regular rider Joel Rosario
aboard as he seeks his first win since taking the Kentucky Derby.
"I'm going to sound a little bit like Todd (Pletcher)," McGaughey said
after the draw. "If I'd have had the six or seven or eight (post), I probably would have been a little bit more happy than the two,
but we've got a long way to go. We can save some ground and, hopefully, there
will be a pace where we can get out when the time comes."
Orb was unbeaten in 2013 entering the Run for the Roses, having broken his
maiden last November at Aqueduct and opening his sophomore season with a
one-length score against optional claiming rivals in January at Gulfstream Park.
Following that, the colt proceeded to take the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby
and Kentucky Derby before dashing his connections' dreams of Triple Crown glory
when fourth in the Preakness.
Despite that, owner/breeders Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable opted to
run Orb in the Belmont, where he rebounded a bit for a tiring third.
"I think when we put him on the van to go to Fair Hill the day after the
Belmont, he was pretty spent," McGaughey admitted. "He was a horse then; I think
he's come back a lot more of a horse for his experience down there. He only had
the tack off of him for two weeks, so it wasn't like he wasn't training very
much. But, he got bigger and put on some weight, and mentally he's probably a
lot sharper than he was. We'll find out Saturday whether that experiment worked
or didn't work.
"I'm looking forward to the Travers on Saturday. I think it's a great race,"
the Hall of Famer added. "With
Palace Malice, you've got very much of a now horse that's always dangerous. Verrazano ever since he broke his maiden has been a top horse and the only
blemish on his record is the Kentucky Derby, and he sure bounced out of that
"I think it really comes up a solid race. I'm looking forward to Saturday. I'm looking forward
to running Orb, and I think you'll see him run a very good race."
|Verrazano was a powerful winner of the Haskell
While Palace Malice captured the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy in his past
two, the son of Curlin is currently playing second fiddle to stable star
Verrazano. That bay colt was a top contender for the Derby early in the season,
but lost some standing when just eking out the win in the Wood Memorial one race
prior. His naysayers were proved right in the Derby when the More Than Ready
sophomore tired to 14th in his first career loss.
Pletcher never lost a beat with Verrazano, though, sending him out to a 9
1/4-length victory in the Pegasus and a 9 3/4-length score in the Haskell
Invitational, both at Monmouth Park. John Velazquez, aboard for all of
Verrazano's seven races thus far, will hold the reins as the colt tries 10
furlongs for the second time.
"I thought (distance concerns) existed (for other people) until he won the
Haskell the way he did," Pletcher stated. "The track was very demanding that
day, probably the slowest Monmouth track I had ever seen. For him to draw away
like he did at the end of a mile and an eighth, to me, put away any concerns
about that. Just watching the horse train over the last year and a half, I never
thought he had any distance limitations.
"He's a tactical horse that can put himself in a good position, and,
obviously, Johnny knows him well. We'll see how the race unfolds
going into the first turn."
Pletcher will also saddle Palace Malice, who has a similar front-running
style as Verrazano, in the Travers. The Dogwood Stable colorbearer has utilized
it to good effect in his past two, and the improving colt keeps Mike Smith
aboard for Saturday.
"You always worry about that, especially with two horses with,
basically, the same running styles," Pletcher admitted. "Ideally, they're horses
that want to stalk an honest pace. I think we should get an honest pace in here,
and they're both going to be laying just off the main speed.
|Palace Malice proved his versatility at long distances when romping in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes
(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)
"It's rare that you have horses go through a series of
Triple Crown prep races and then run in the Derby and the Belmont and seem like
they get stronger and better. In (Palace Malice's) case, he's gaining weight,
he's gotten bigger and stronger, more professional. He seems to be thriving on
it. Verrazano's constitution, he's very much the same kind of horse.
"They're both horses that carry their weight well and take their races well.
They're kind horses to train; they don't overdo it on a daily basis. When you
have them breeze, they're right there doing exactly what you want them to do.
concerned we're trying to match lifetime-best performances in four weeks," he
added about his pair's last races. "It's always a balancing act. We just hope
they can come over and run their races, and everything we have seen in their
training since the Jim Dandy and Haskell indicates to us they're still in peak
form. We hope it's still the case Saturday afternoon.
While most of the attention will be focused on the top trio, trainer D. Wayne
Lukas could provide an upset in the form of Will Take Charge. The veteran
conditioner did just that in the Preakness, saddling Oxbow to a 1 3/4-length
triumph at 15-1 in the Preakness. Will Take Charge sandwiched a seventh-place
effort in that race between an eighth in the Derby and a 10th-placing in the
The chestnut son of Unbridled's Song rebounded well out of the Triple Crown,
rallying for second behind Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy last out.
|Will Take Charge (outside) earned his shot in the KY Derby
by just getting the head victory at 28-1 in the Rebel
(Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography)
"The Derby experience seemed to affect him mentally," Lukas explained. "He got
a little bit more involved than you may want to think. He came out of that a
little less focused than he should have been; then I kept the blinkers on him.
When I went into the Jim Dandy, I decided to do something different -- we pulled
the blinkers off. I thought that made a big difference. That let him see
"When Tom Durkin hollered, 'Palace Malice hits the front' right at
the top of the stretch, the crowd roared all the way to the quarter-pole. He
(Will Take Charge) gawked at that and ducked in, then he came back out and ran
at Palace Malice."
Will Take Charge gets a jockey switch to Luiz Saez for the Travers.
"It's not surprising for me. I think
that's the basketball coach (in me) coming out," Lukas said of rider change. "I get a gut feeling on who's
playing well and who isn't. I like to match them up a little bit. It's not to
say that Junior (Alvarado) didn't ride a real good race in the Jim Dandy. I
thought maybe Luis would fit this horse a little better, be a little more
aggressive. I made an executive decision."
Will Take Charge and Saez will break from the 5 post on Saturday.
"Excellent. My favorite number," Lukas teased before saying, "I
think it is (meaningless). We are going a mile and a quarter here. We've got a
little ways to go. I think it's going to be spread out a little bit. I don't
think everybody is going to be bunched up going into the first turn. It will
mean a little bit on the break and it will mean a little bit on who's in the
back and who's doing what, and what they are thinking about as they try to get
position. It gives us something to talk about, but it's not that big of a deal."
|Moreno scored an easy seven-length Dwyer win with ears pricked
(Bud Morton/EquiSport Photos)
Also exiting the Jim Dandy is Moreno, who finished third after leading in the
early going. The Eric Guillot-trained son of Ghostzapper brought a seven-length,
front-running victory in the Dwyer and a 6 1/4-length maiden score into that
"My horse is going to have to run faster," Guillot said. "We're here to play. We're here for
fun. It's the Travers. Owner Michael Moreno and I, this is what we do. Like I
told him the other day, I'm not going to get up at 4:30 seven days a week and
not go to the big dance."
The trainer has been high on his colt for a while now and hopes he continues
to improve on Saturday.
"What I said was if he decided
to start running and show desire, he'll be the best three-year-old," Guillot
stated. "He was cooled out by the time I took the tongue tie off of him in the
"Exactly. They've still got holes in donuts," he quipped when asked if Moreno
would go to the front when the gates opened. "He's more efficient than Santa
Claus on Christmas Eve. How efficient is that?"
The Travers features many rematches this year, including from the host
track's token prep race, the July 26 Curlin. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained
Transparent was an easy two-length scorer of that nine-furlong feature but found
himself disqualified for bothering a rival and placed fifth. The dark bay son of
Bernardini will be looking for vindication on Saturday as he tries to become the
third straight winner of the race from his sire's three crops to race.
"His father, Bernardini, won the (2006) Travers, (and) two sons
of Bernardini -- Stay Thirsty (2011) and Alpha (2012, dead-heat) -- won the
Travers, so he definitely has the pedigree," McLaughlin noted.
"The (far outside) post I don't think is a big deal. The competition is.
The horse is doing well, and (the Curlin) was a true prep. He had some gaps in
his races, obviously, 112 days, and in his work tab, also. He's worked twice
since he ran and we're ready for him to run a big race. We got the race, two
works, and we're ready."
Romansh was the beneficiary of Transparent's Curlin disqualification, awarded
the win in his first try against stakes rivals. Though Saturday will represent a
major class jump, trainer Tom Albertrani is willing to take the chance.
"This horse has been improving with every start," he asserted. "He has
only raced four times and I have seen a big improvement after every start. And I
was really pleased with the forward step he made in the Curlin, and I could see
him actually making another forward step hopefully this Saturday. That was
definitely his best race. We were happy to be second. Transparent ran a huge
race himself and our horse was coming in off a bit of a layoff, so I could
definitely see where this race is definitely going to bring him over another
"Love the way he has been going into this race. He is
definitely more focused and had a good work here a week ago. I am getting all
the right signs. The horse is just doing extremely well."
Romansh will break from the rail under Javier Castellano.
|War Dancer (center) fought a winning battle to take the Virginia Derby
(Colonial Downs/Coady Photography)
War Dancer and Golden Soul complete the field for the 144th running of the
Travers. The former, a last-out winner of the grassy Virginia Derby going 10
furlongs, will actually be trying dirt for only the second time in his career.
His prior effort on the main track resulted in a fourth-placing against maiden
rivals in February at Gulfstream.
"We kind of pigeon-holed him as a grass horse for
an extended period," trainer Ken McPeek explained. "He was winning and doing everything right, but he has been
doing everything right on the dirt as well. We probably had an opportunity to
run in the Secretariat (last Saturday at Arlington) with him, but I think you only get one shot at
Travers), and I think he's deserving.
"That race didn't have much pace in
it," he added about War Dancer's previous dirt start. "I think we got a little
bit too far back and I know he didn't kick on like he had, but he did gallop out
really good in that race. I could have come back on the dirt, but the easier
thing was to get him back on the grass. Good horses will run over anything, and
he has shown he's a really good horse."
Golden Soul is still just a maiden winner, but did finish second to Orb in
the Kentucky Derby. Conditioner Dallas Stewart gave him some time off following
a subpar ninth in the Belmont Stakes, but the chestnut returned to be a
well-beaten last of seven in the Haskell. Despite all that, Stewart hasn't lost
faith in his colt.
"He's trained very
well since that last race," the trainer said. "I don't have any idea why he ran so bad
down at Monmouth. He's trained great here; he's passed every health check that
we've given him. He's passed every workout; time-wise, they've been great. His
appetite is terrific. I couldn't be happier with him. I think he can compete, so
here we are."
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