SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Orb is back after a two-month escape from New York, and trainer Shug McGaughey is hoping his Kentucky Derby star returns to his winning ways in the $1 million Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
After the Derby extended his win streak to five, Orb ran fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes on June 8. The next morning, the 3-year-old colt was vanned to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., for rest and relaxation following the Triple Crown grind.
It remains to be seen if the change of scenery was the right call. McGaughey, though, likes everything he's seen in his colt since Orb arrived at the Spa two weeks ago. Even though Orb is the third choice at 4-1 behind the Todd Pletcher duo of 2-1 favorite Verrazano and 5-2 Palace Malice, McGaughey is expecting a big effort.
"He got bigger, and probably put on some more weight, and mentally he's probably a lot sharper than he was," McGaughey said, referring to his strapping son of Malibu Moon. "We'll find out Saturday whether the experiment worked or didn't work ... I'm looking forward to running Orb, and I think you'll see him run a very good race."
Also entered in the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Travers are Romansh, Golden Soul, Will Take Charge, Moreno, War Dancer and Transparent.
While Orb was regrouping in Maryland, Pletcher's two colts were running themselves right into the 3-year-old championship picture. After Palace Malice's breakthrough win in the Belmont – he lost six of his first seven career starts – the Dogwood Stable-owned horse posted a 1-length victory in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 27. Verrazano, meanwhile, rebounded from the only loss of his seven-race career – 14th in the Derby after a rough trip over a sloppy track – with blowout wins in the Pegasus and the Haskell Invitational by a combined 19 lengths.
This won't be the first time Pletcher sends out more than one horse in a big race, but it's not often he's had the top two betting choices. He, like other trainers, also likes to keep his best horses from squaring off against each other. It's not an option this time.
"You always try to do what's best for each individual horse and each individual owner, and I think the Travers is the right race for both horses," Pletcher said. "It's as simple as that. I'm as interested to see it as everyone else. They're two horses that are doing unbelievably well, and coming off really, really good races. It's going to be a fun race to watch. It's shaping up to be a great Travers."
Orb, owned by the Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III, will be ridden by Joel Rosario and leave from the No. 2 post. Verrazano, with John Velazquez in the irons, starts from the No. 3 post, and Palace Malice and Mike Smith leave from the No. 8 post.
Don't discount some of the long shots.
Will Take Charge comes into the Mid-Summer Derby after rallying for second behind Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy. The colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas ran in all the Triple Crown races, but did not hit the board. He ran a deceptive eighth in the Derby after moving up on the leaders before getting caught behind horses in the stretch.
Lukas, who has won a record 14 Triple Crown races, is looking for his third Travers win with his first starter in the race since 2002. He also made a jockey change, with Luis Saez replacing Junior Alvarado aboard 10-1 Will Take Charge.
"I love the big ones," the 77-year-old Hall of Fame trainer said. "I love to get in that main arena and try to pull it off."
Moreno, at 12-1, is expected to set the pace, and his trainer hopes he just keeps on running right into the winner's circle. The gelding went wire-to-wire in winning the Dwyer on July 6, and led the Jim Dandy before finishing third.
"My horse is going to have to run faster," said Eric Guillot, Moreno's trainer. "We're here to play. We're here for fun. It's the Travers."
Last year's Travers ended in a dead heat for first with Alpha and Golden Ticket. Both trainers will try to win it again Saturday – Alpha's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, sends out 10-1 Transparent (first in the Curlin, but disqualified to fifth for interference) and Golden Ticket's trainer, Ken McPeek, sends out 15-1 War Dancer (winner of the Virginia Derby).
The Travers will be televised by NBC with post time at 5:46 p.m.
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