LOUISVILLE — It was the equine equivalent of trash talking.
Orb, a Grade I stakes winner, effectively threw down the gauntlet to his fellow Kentucky Derby contenders Monday morning when he effortlessly coasted through a 4-furlong breeze in 47.8 seconds over a fast Churchill Downs track.
Working in company with stablemate Overwhelming, the two broke off on even terms with exercise rider Jennifer Patterson on Orb and his Derby jockey Joel Rosario aboard his workmate. Without being asked, Orb ran splits of 12, 23.8 and 35.8 galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:00.8 and 6 furlongs in 1:14.6.
The son of Malibu Moon finished about four lengths in front and continued to widen that margin during the gallop out, prompting a huge smile from Patterson as they came off the track.
"He left his workmate pretty easily and finished up well," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "He has had a little bit of a tendency in his races to sort of when he made the lead, he thought he had done enough so we wanted him to kind of finish on by that horse today and he did that.
"From day one that he got here, I've been happy with what I saw. I was hoping this was what I would see. He dropped his head and walked home the way you'd want him to and really didn't break a sweat. (Patterson) felt like she never was really out of a high gallop."
Owned and bred by Stuart Janney and Phipps Stables, Orb has repeatedly impressed McGaughey in recent months. After winning the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes over Grade I winner Violence, Orb came back and handled one of the better fields on the prep trail this year when he won the Grade I Florida Derby on March 30.
"As of right now I've got no qualms," McGaughey said. "I'm excited, really excited. I have been since the Florida Derby."
Fellow Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas also sent his Derby contenders out for their final serious moves Monday. Grade III winner Oxbow worked 5 furlongs in a bullet :59.8 while Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge went the same distance in 1:01.
"If you're going to err on any side of a work, you always err on the slow side," Lukas said.
Baffert runners officially out; Fear the Kitten, Golden Soul in
Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed Monday that he will not start either Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie or Risen Star runner-up Code West in the Kentucky Derby, making this the first year since 2008 the Hall of Famer he will not have a starter in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Todd Pletcher also confirmed Monday he would not start Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes winner Winning Cause in the Kentucky Derby, leaving the five-time Eclipse Award winner with five starters in the race.
"He worked very well today (4 furlongs in 48.2) but after speaking to the owners we decided we would not start," Pletcher said.
The exits of Govenor Charlie, Code West and Winning Cause cleared the way for Golden Soul, fourth in the Louisiana Derby, to make the Derby field.
Tiz a Minister, third in the San Felipe, could have gotten in but trainer Paul Aguirre said via text Monday afternoon the owner has opted not to run.
With the 20th spot suddenly open again, trainer Mike Maker said Fear the Kitten, fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes, would be entered with Alan Garcia slated to ride.
Fear the Kitten has six points on the Kentucky Derby standings by virtue of his third-place finish in the LeComte and second-place finish in the Southwest Stakes.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.