While much of the history and prestige associated with Saratoga Race Course is written through racing’s elite that assemble for the seasonal parade of graded stakes races, it is the juvenile racing — and the quest for racing’s stars of tomorrow — that generates the most anticipation.
In that regard, Aug. 18, 2012 proved a perfect example. Headlines from a sun-splashed Saturday went to Questing, who was sensational in the Alabama en route to eventual year-end championship honors, and the Shug McGaughey trained Point of Entry, a decisive winner of the Sword Dancer.
Yet the juvenile race that afternoon also proved notable as the Todd Pletcher-trained Violence scored a hard-fought victory at first-asking, a precursor to subsequent graded stakes wins in the Nashua and CashCall Futurity.
Violence’s debut win — one of a remarkable 23 wins Pletcher tallied with juveniles at the Spa meet — overshadowed a promising effort turned in by third-place finisher Orb.
Breaking from the troublesome rail post out of the 7-furlong chute, Orb leaped up right at the break, spotting the field five lengths. He then entered the lane six wide before eventually closing the gap to a bit more than a length at the wire.
Orb was dismissed at 29-1 that August day, mostly attributed to the sparse success McGaughey has with first-time starting juveniles.
“I thought he would run good,” McGaughey remarked immediately after the race. “He had worked good in the mornings.”
While the debut outing proved a good education, it took three more races until Orb finally put it all together, breaking his maiden Thanksgiving weekend at Aqueduct, and he has only improved from there.
Victories in the Fountain of Youth — where sentiments of a measure of revenge on Violence were tempered when that rival exited the race with a career-ending injury — and Florida Derby have now earned Orb the distinction of morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Orb has exhibited an ability to run the turns extremely well, which coupled with his long, sustained kick, should serve him well in the Derby.
Orb will mark just the second Derby starter for Hall of Famer and Kentucky-native Shug McGaughey since he saddled Easy Goer to a runner-up finish in 1989 (the other being Saarland in 2002). The Churchill Downs scene will be much more familiar to trainer Doug O’Neill, who after success with I’ll Have Another and relatively unknown jockey Mario Gutierrez a year ago, is back with a big chance to double-up, this time pairing Goldencents with jockey Kevin Krigger.
O’Neill has shown confidence in the tandem since a scintillating debut score at Del Mar last summer, opting to ship cross-country for the Grade I Champagne and a battle with eventual juvenile champ Shanghai Bobby at Belmont Park in just his second career start.
Like I’ll Have Another before him, Goldencents comes to the Run for the Roses off a win in the Santa Anita Derby, arguably the most impressive performance of the Derby prep season.
Todd Pletcher, with a record of 1 for 31 from 12 prior runnings, will saddle a more than a quarter of the 19-horse Derby field. Remarkably, this is the second time Pletcher has taken five shots at a Derby, with Circular Quay’s sixth-place finish the best of his quintet in 2007.
While Verrazano is the most hyped of Pletcher’s handful of chances, there could be fair value with Overanalyze, who was a sharp winner of a soft Arkansas Derby and may offer another step forward.
Overanalyze joins Orb, Oxbow, Revolutionary, Palace Malice, Charming Kitten and Will Take Charge as the seven Derby starters that raced locally last summer, a positive angle considering three of the last five Derby winners made stops in Saratoga during their juvenile campaigns.
Normandy Invasion could be sitting on a big effort for Chad Brown in just his third start of the year, and the added ground will seemingly be to his liking.
Revolutionary brings a three-race win streak to the Derby for the same connections of WinStar Farm, Pletcher and Calvin Borel that claimed success beneath the Twin Spires in 2010.
Itsmyluckyday is the most experienced runner in the group with 10 races under his belt, yet enters this relatively fresh with just a single start since a track-record setting performance in the Holy Bull in late January.
Derby 139 Selections: 1st — Orb; 2nd — Goldencents; 3rd — Overanalyze; 4th — Normandy Invasion.
Kyle Brownell is The Post-Star’s horse racing handicapper.