Orb light years ahead of his erratic beginnings on the track

Kentucky Derby winner Orb munches on hay in Kentucky Derby winner Orb munches on hay in his stall in Barn 41 at Churchill Downs. (May 5, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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The first-time starter caught the eye in the post parade last Aug. 18 at Saratoga, and so did his 29-1 odds. He looked like a bargain entering the gate and like a goofball leaving it. Orb lurched left from the inside post, with Joel Rosario lucky to stay on. They were far back and all over the track until surging eight-wide late to be third.

The big finish made him a 3-5 favorite three weeks later, but Orb acted up in the gate and plodded home fourth, 22½ lengths behind. He needed two more starts to finally win but hasn't lost since, clicking off five straight, the last three in graded stakes. The slow learner caught up and left everyone behind, and after his 2 1/2-length Kentucky Derby triumph, the consensus is there's serious Triple Crown potential here.

Even his conservative trainer, Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, let himself say it. "I think we have our hands on a very special horse," he said. "I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't think about it. It would be wonderful to win the Preakness and go home to Belmont with a chance for the Triple Crown. I don't know if I feel pressure, but I'm feeling a little more nervous than before the Derby. But I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait for Saturday."

No one could call Orb's Derby a fluke. Despite a wide trip throughout, he and Rosario passed 16 horses in about three-eighths of a mile, going from 17th on the backstretch to the lead inside the eighth pole.

The more you watch the replay, the more impressed you are.

HRTV analyst Richard Migliore rode more than 4,400 winners and doesn't get carried away easily. The Mig has taken a shine to Orb, who will be heavily favored in Saturday's Preakness.

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"So many of the horses we've seen win the Derby and Preakness didn't have the style, the pedigree and the connections this horse has," Migliore said. "I think this is the perfect package. The Triple Crown is a daunting task, but he gives you the feeling it's actually possible. I think Orb is getting everybody excited."

Orb's effortless 47.18-second breeze (final quarter-mile in a blazing 23.12) Monday at Belmont Park should set him up perfectly. "I thought it was freaky, nothing short of magnificent," McGaughey said. "It didn't look like he got out of a high gallop. It gave me chills, I'll tell you that."

Shortly after 10 a.m., Orb boarded a van for Pimlico.

First cousins Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, 72, and Stuart Janney III, 64, bred and own Orb, carrying on a tradition begun in 1926 by their grandmother. Gladys Mills Phipps (1883-1970), who lived in Old Westbury, and her brother Ogden Mills founded Wheatley Stable in 1926. "America's first lady of the turf" bred and raced seven champions, including 1957 Preakness winner Bold Ruler. Gladys' son Ogden Phipps (1908-2002), Dinny's father, had nine homebred champs, including Buckpasser, undefeated Personal Ensign and 1989 Belmont hero Easy Goer. Dinny has campaigned five. Janney's late parents, Stuart Janney Jr. and Barbara Phipps Janney, owned the immortal filly Ruffian.

Orb was the clan's first Derby winner, completing a Phipps Triple Crown with Bold Ruler and Easy Goer. Orb's first three races didn't inspire any Derby future-book bets.

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"He's filled out so much physically," McGaughey said. "I can't believe what I'm seeing from last November to now. He was a bit difficult at the gate all of his 2-year-old year, and that's all behind him. I couldn't be more pleased with his development."

Orb will be the first Preakness runner for Janney, a Marylander who grew up attending the race.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a five-time winner, plans to run Derby also-rans Oxbow and Will Take Charge along with Titletown Five, second in Orb's debut.

"We're all going to have to get better to beat Orb," Lukas said. "I think the Preakness will be the biggest hurdle for him for the Triple Crown. If he gets by that, he gets to go back to Belmont and run right out of his stall."

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