You can count Orb in for the Belmont Stakes.
"We're going to go," trainer Shug McGaughey said Sunday morning shortly after the Kentucky Derby winner breezed 4 furlongs in 48.30 seconds at Belmont Park. "We're planning on it and we're looking forward to Saturday."
Even after Orb finished an uncompetitive fourth behind 15-1 Oxbow as the 3-5 favorite May 18 in the Preakness, the buzz was he would return for the Belmont. "It just wasn't our day," McGaughey said. "Nothing went right. He was stuck down on the inside of a very loose track he just didn't handle."
Orb's workout convinced McGaughey he's back to himself. "He started off nice and steady, which Shug wanted, and finished up strong," exercise rider Jennifer Patterson said. "I didn't have to encourage him at all. He's happy and feeling good."
McGaughey and co-owners Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps and Stuart Janney III could have opted to rest Orb and point for the Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga.
"The Travers is high up there on our schedule, but a lot of times you have to take what you've got," McGaughey said. "I think the Belmont Stakes stands on its own. It's a classic race, he's doing well and this is home. You never can tell what can happen if you back off. The last time I did this, Easy Goer came out of the Belmont the best of all the three races."
That was in 1989, when the huge colt wrecked the Triple Crown bid of archrival Sunday Silence with an eight-length runaway. Immortality is not at stake this time, when Orb could become the 12th horse to hit the Derby-Belmont double and the first since Thunder Gulch in 1995. Easy Goer gave the late Ogden Phipps his only Belmont trophy, and Orb could do that for his son Dinny and Janney.
Besides Orb, six other Belmont contenders breezed Sunday, including five trained by Todd Pletcher: Derby also-rans Overanalyze (4 furlongs, 48.01 seconds), Revolutionary (48.51) and Palace Malice (47.56) plus the filly Unlimited Budget (47.55) and newcomer Midnight Taboo (5 furlongs, 1:00.88). Kiaran McLaughlin trains Incognito, who went in 48.25.
Unlimited Budget's work was the fastest at the distance. "I thought she was full of run throughout and galloped out strongly," Pletcher said.
Only three fillies have earned the blanket of white carnations, and Pletcher trained the last one, Rags to Riches (2007). Unlimited Budget was 4-for-4 before finishing third May 3 in the Kentucky Oaks.
Mike Repole owns Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo. In an email to Newsday, Repole wrote: "If they all come out of their works fine, Overanalyze and Unlimited Budget are 100 percent to run and Midnight Taboo is 75 percent."
Like Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze is a multiple graded-stakes winner, but Midnight Taboo is 1-for-3, never been in a stakes or beyond 1 1/16 miles. "It's just a question of how aggressive Mike wants to be with a horse that's lightly raced but has talent," Pletcher said.
Others expected to be entered Wednesday include Oxbow, Derby runner-up Golden Soul, Will Take Charge, Freedom Child, Always in a Tiz, Giant Finish and Vyjack. A field of 14 would be one short of the Belmont record, which concerns McGaughey.
"Because I think there are some horses in there that really don't belong," he said, "but they've got a right to run. But there were 19 in the Derby, and going a mile and a half, I think they'll start separating themselves pretty early.
"If things go right for Orb, I think you'll see a different horse than we saw two weeks ago."