On Sunday afternoon, a bouquet of roses lay outside barn 20 on the Belmont backstretch, their colors nearly matching the red paint on the sign identifying the barn as the home of the Phipps Stable. The bouquet wasn’t quite as imposing as the blanket of roses that had been presented the day before, its meaning less grandiose. It was not a celebration of victory; it was, rather, a welcome home.
Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.
A handful of people waited for news of the van en route from Long Island MacArthur Airport, the van carrying half a dozen horses that had flown from Louisville that morning. The names of the horses were not unfamiliar: Hungry Island, the graded stakes winner second by a neck in this year’s Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, and Point of Entry, the multiple Grade I winner, scratched, disappointingly, from the Wood Reserve Turf Classic were among those heading home.
But they and their stablemates had to wait their turn to get off the van…pride of place was given to the winner of Kentucky Derby 139, who walked down the chute and into his shedrow attended by a small shadow of paparazzi and fans, eager to welcome Orb home.
It had been months since he’d been at Belmont: after breaking his maiden at Aqueduct last November, he’d headed south, spending the winter at Payson Park before traveling to Churchill Downs to contest the Kentucky Derby. He might have headed straight to Baltimore from Louisville, but instead, his trainer Shug McGaughey opted to come back to Belmont for a week or so.
McGaughey’s week has been tougher than Orb’s: the trainer has made multiple media appearances, done countless interviews. Orb stayed close to barn 20 until Wednesday morning, when he headed to the track in the rain for a jog, then went back on Thursday to gallop. He’s expected to breeze on Monday before leaving for Pimlico on Tuesday.
For the fourth time since 2003, New Yorkers will have the chance to root home one of their own in the Preakness, in the hope that he’ll come back to Belmont in June with a chance to win the Triple Crown. The roots of Team Orb run deep in the Empire State: McGaughey has trained here for decades, and Orb’s owners, Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable, have been pillars of racing in this state, as owners, breeders, and members of NYRA’s board.
So we kick off this year’s Belmont Stakes blog by welcoming Orb back to Belmont. Over the next month we’ll follow him to Pimlico, and we hope back home for a run at the first Triple Crown in 35 years.
We’ll also, as usual, dig into the history of the Belmont Stakes; we’ll look at some of the other horses that will be running on Belmont day; we’ll check out the latest addition to NYRA’s stakes calendar, a spring version of the popular New York Showcase Day on June 1.
So…welcome back. Welcome back to Belmont. Welcome back to the blog. And welcome back to Shug and Orb, winners of Kentucky Derby 139.