McGaughey gets look at Orb, Fair Hill

Joe Clancy, ThisIsHorseRacing.com

Shug McGaughey answered his phone Friday morning and tried to explain where he was. “We’re in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

To paraphrase Louise: Not quite, but you can see it from where McGaughey was standing – at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, watching Kentucky Derby winner Orb graze after galloping 1½ miles. The Hall of Fame trainer was out behind the on-site equine therapy center, in the shadow of a towering AirGas oxygen tank that fuels the hyperbaric chamber where Orb spends some time most days. The Derby winner left McGaughey’s Belmont Park barn the day after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes and went to Fair Hill to recuperate, rest, regain, renew.

The plan seems to have worked. Orb did the proverbial nothing for a week or more, soaked up the oxygen in the hyperbaric, ate grass, walked. He even went out back in the field for some light exercise – “quite lively” was the report. He’s been going to Fair Hill’s track for about a week now and galloped Friday – McGaughey’s first visit to Fair Hill and first glimpse of Orb in almost three weeks.

“It’s fun to see him. I think he’s done really well,” McGaughey said. “I’m very pleased with what I see and how his attitude is and how he’s coming back a bit. I saw some of the stuff this morning that I saw back in the winter. He’s doing some stupid things, that they do when they feel good. He walked out and wouldn’t go at one point. That’s fine. He was playing coming off the track. I like to see that.”

After training and grazing, Orb stood in the cold saltwater spa for 20 minutes or so and soaked up his share of attention along with the 33-degree water. “That would be good for any horse,” McGaughey said after dipping his hand. The machine is a far cry from the cold-water hose at Belmont Park, ice boots, or any other less high-tech option.

Orb may work Tuesday, and could rejoin the stable at Saratoga in a little more than two weeks.

“I was just asked when he was going to leave and I’m not sure because he’s doing so good,” said McGaughey, who trains the 3-year-old for Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable. “I love the atmosphere. I’d never been here before and I can’t imagine how an atmosphere could be any better for a horse. There are places you can send a horse for some of this therapy and extra stuff, but you can’t train. The good thing here is you don’t lose any time.”

McGaughey also sent Imagining and Puzzling to Fair Hill, creating a mini-string for assistant trainer/exercise rider Jenn Patterson. She worked at Fair Hill before, with trainer Ricky Hendriks, and grew up nearby in Delaware. She’s been in the area for two weeks recovering from some nagging injuries left over from a fall from a horse at Belmont, but was back aboard Orb and the others Friday. Imagining, a Keeneland allowance winner this spring, worked a half-mile on the Tapeta track in 49.40 Friday morning.