McGaughey headed to Derby with Orb

John Velazquez rides Orb to victory in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
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With Orb's latest victory, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has reason to hope for his first Kentucky Derby winner in a career of more than 30 years.

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''It's my dream,'' McGaughey said Saturday after Orb won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. ''When the 2-year-olds come in, I always try to think, `Well, one of these is going to be the one to take us to the Derby where we have an opportunity to win.' ''

Orb caught Itsmyluckyday inside the eighth pole and drew clear to win the Grade 1 stakes race by 2-3/4 lengths.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Orb ran 1-1/8 miles in 1 minute, 50.87 seconds and returned $7.80 for a $2 win bet. It was his fourth straight victory. Orb also won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in February.

McGaughey trained 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer, who finished second in that year's Kentucky Derby to Sunday Silence.

''I haven't taken one to the Derby since (Saarland in) 2002,'' McGaughey said, ''and this horse, by far, is the best opportunity I've had since Easy Goer.''

Orb's fractious behavior in the paddock Saturday reminded owner Stuart Janney III of moody Coronado's Quest, who finished fifth in the '98 Florida Derby. That ended any chances of going to the Kentucky Derby that year.

Orb, however, calmed down and didn't disappoint.

''Once you get him out of the paddock and on the racetrack, he's beautiful,'' Velazquez said. ''He doesn't do anything wrong on the track.''

Orb entered the race already owning enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. By finishing second, Itsmyluckyday earned 40 points in the points system to also qualify.

''I expected him to win, and he didn't. Am I disappointed? Yes,'' trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said of Itsmyluckyday. ''He just got outrun. The winner ran a fantastic race. We finished second, and that's good enough to get in the Derby, which was our goal.''

Shanghai Bobby, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished fifth after starting on the rail under Rosie Napravnik. Undefeated as a 2-year-old with a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Shanghai Bobby probably needed to finish at least third to clinch a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

''He seemed to be in a tough spot all the way around,'' Pletcher said. ''Rosie said he just never really relaxed in that scenario.''

Merit Man was third.

The Florida Derby was one of six graded stakes races at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.


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In the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, Dreaming of Julia took command on the far turn and closed in dominant fashion to win by 21-3/4 lengths. The Todd Pletcher-trained filly paid $5.20 and covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.97 under Velazquez.

Live Lively, who beat Dreaming of Julia by 1-1/2 lengths in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes on Feb. 23, finished a distant second.

''That was pretty impressive,'' Pletcher said of his filly. ''I felt better that we were able to put ourselves in a good position pretty comfortably and had our sights on (Live Lively).''

Cigar Street, co-owned by Miami Heat forward Rashard Lewis, won the Grade 3 Skip Away Stakes by two lengths after drawing clear late. He covered 1-3/16 miles in 1:56.84 and paid $5.60.

In the Grade 3 Appleton Stakes, Za Approval ran the turf mile in 1:32.07 to beat Beaux Choix by a length.

In the Grade 3 Orchid Stakes, Regalo Mia won going away. The 4-year-old filly covered 1-1/2 miles on turf in 2:23.48 and paid $19.40.

Ciao Bella won the 1-1/8 miles Grade 3 Rampart Stakes by 4-1/2 lengths ahead of Authenticity. Both mares are trained by Pletcher. Ciao Bella paid $2.80.

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