Shug McGaughey got away, played a little golf.
Jenn Patterson got away, let her sore back heal.
Orb got away, too, away from the hubbub, away from the grind of a Triple Crown campaign, to the equine equivalent of a resort spa.
The Kentucky Derby winner lost the Preakness and lost the Belmont Stakes to disappoint people craving the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, but a country vacation to the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland appears to have done wonders for the bay Malibu Moon colt.
That makes him a formidable presence heading into Saturday’s $1 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course.
Refreshed by the retreat, Orb has made a move forward that Patterson, his exercise rider, said puts him back where he was leading into his best races this year.
He topped off his preparation for the Travers on Monday by cruising four furlongs in a bullet 47.68 on the Oklahoma training track.
“I was very happy with how he did it,” Patterson said. “It reminded me of how we were before the Florida Derby, before the Kentucky Derby. And he came home, and he was all happy with himself, so . . . we’re happy, too.”
McGaughey, Orb’s Hall of Fame trainer, sensed that his colt wasn’t quite right during the week leading up to the Belmont.
There was nothing physically wrong with him, he was sound and had no evidence of any respiratory problems, McGaughey said, but he decided before Orb even ran in the Belmont that he was going to be put out to pasture for a break.
He and Phipps Stable still had visions of hitting all the big races in the fall, but in the meantime, Orb needed some rest and relaxation.
“I knew I wanted to get him away from the racetrack somewhere,” McGaughey said. “I didn’t know where.”
He had considered bringing Orb to Saratoga right after the June 8 Belmont, but wasn’t 100 percent sure that would be the antidote.
Fair Hill, in Cecil County, Md., midway between Philadelphia and Baltimore, has a growing reputation for not only being a training center with a seven-furlong Tapeta track, but also a recovery facility at Bruce Jackson’s barn that houses the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center.
McGaughey had almost no experience sending horses to Fair Hill, but Jackson’s reputation was such that he was willing to give it a shot.
“Any time you move them around, there’s a bit of a risk factor, but I wasn’t worried about it,”
McGaughey said. “The people who are there — Graham Motion, Michael Matz, Michael Trombetta, Tony Dutrow — are all very favorable about it.
“I had never seen it. But when I did see it, I knew we were in the right spot.”
Of the diverse therapy methods available at Fair Hill, Orb used the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the AquaPacer, which is a small above-ground pool with a treadmill, and the cold saltwater spa.
Apparently, mud facials are not part of the program, but just about everything else is.
Even better for Orb, Patterson was on break and could visit and observe him, then was able to ride him in the mornings once he got back in training.
“We called it Spa Fair Hill or Resort Fair Hill,” Patterson said with a laugh.
McGaughey was only committed to sending Orb to Fair Hill for two weeks, but Jackson and Patterson convinced him that the colt was doing so well that he’d be better off just staying for the duration of the time before the Travers.
McGaughey was so sold on Fair Hill, in fact, that he ended up sending 10 more horses down there.
“This is all a whole new deal for me. I’d never even met Bruce,” McGaughey said. “It’s more of a country-type atmosphere. He spent more time out of his stall than he can here. Plus, Bruce Jackson’s got all that therapy stuff there.”
Orb went there on business, too, not just for a physical and mental recharge.
Patterson worked him in the mornings once he got back to the track, and his last two breezes were terrific, especially the last one, a 59.20 for five furlongs on Aug. 10.
He pretty much duplicated that at the Oklahoma on Monday.
“His stride, when he’s right, is so big, and he does things so easily,” Patterson said. “He always fools me with his times when he’s right, because I just feel like we’re galloping around there. I had that feeling again this morning, which is real nice.”
Orb, Will Take Charge and Oxbow are the only horses to have competed in all three Triple Crown races this season.
Will Take Charge is supposed to run on Saturday, but Oxbow is out of the Travers with an ankle injury.
By virtue of being the Derby winner, Orb and his camp enjoyed — but also were forced to endure — all the ancillary strain of the Triple Crown.
“It was a whirlwind, especially after the Derby,” McGaughey said. “That was quite a two weeks. I was tired, but still excited about winning the Kentucky Derby.
“Obviously, we were disappointed [losing the Preakness]. I was disappointed for the following that we had picked up. I felt like we sort of let them down.”
There was no let-down around barn 81 near the first turn of the Oklahoma track on Monday morning.
With the big horse scheduled to breeze, everyone seemed to have a little extra jump in their steps and gleam in their eyes — including the big horse.
“I think we’re coming into it as good as we can,” Patterson said. “He’s fit. Mentally, he’s good. But there’s a lot of other really good
3-year-olds out there. He could run the best race of his life and still finish maybe second or third.
“I’m real excited for it, because it’s going to be a great Travers. I think we’re going to be right there. After today, we’re ready, we have him right where we want him to be, and now it’s just going to be up to him.”
“I see a lot more horse,” McGaughey said. “I see more sparkle in his eye that wasn’t there.
“That’s OK that the Travers is coming up tough. That’s the way they’re supposed to come up. We think we’re tough, too.”
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