LOUISVILLE — Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey is a man who looks like the embodiment of the nickname that is all anybody calls him by. Short and unassuming, he said this week he made an effort to enjoy the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, a race he has, like any trainer, dreamed of winning.
But the Hall of Famer knew, really, that there’s only one way to truly enjoy the Kentucky Derby: Win it.
Running over a sloppy Churchill Downs track that left 19 contenders caked in mud, McGaughey’s horse Orb found stable footing and a late lead in the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Orb moved to the front with about 200 yards to go after laying back, and surged past long shot Golden Soul to win the $2 million Derby by 2 ½ lengths and secure the first jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown in front of 151,616.
Revolutionary, ridden by three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel, had been the betting favorite for most of the day, but a last-minute surge put Orb back on top. He’d been a 7-2 favorite on the morning line and went off at 5-1.
McGaughey, a Lexington, Ky., native, is popular among his peers and became a fan favorite as the week wore on. McGaughey was asked a typical post-Derby question: How will winning change your life?
“Well, the way it is going to change my life is I’m not going to have to worry about it anymore,” McGaughey said. “Because I’ve worried about it for a while.”
Assuming Orb comes out of the race in good shape, he’ll head to Baltimore for the May 18 Preakness Stakes. Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, which culminates with the Belmont Stakes in early June, but none since Affirmed in 1978.
Orb completed the race in 2:02.89. This was only the seventh time the Derby was run over a track graded as sloppy. The winner paid $12.80, $7.40 and $5.40 on a $2 bet. Golden Soul, a 38-1 long shot who finished second, returned $38.60 and $19.40, while Revolutionary paid $5.40 to show.
Orb worked through the field under Joel Rosario, who regained the mount when original rider John Velazquez opted to ride Verrazano. Rosario kept Orb away from the fray on the first turn, held him back for most of race and began his move at the top of the stretch. Orb, when urged to go, caught a horse in front of him and, emboldened, swung outside into a clear lane. When he got to the top of the pack, he momentarily slowed before pulling away.
“I did get a little bit antsy there,” McGaughey said of his horse’s pause. “But he did go on and finish.”
Rosario has dominated Kentucky racing since arriving for his first extended stay six weeks ago. Still, he finished second on two horses for McGaughey earlier this week and, chastened, called to tell the trainer that he had to “look himself in the mirror.” A native of the Dominican Republic, Rosario won his first Derby in his fourth try.
McGaughey, who brought three horses to the Derby in the late 1980s but only one since, trains exclusively for the Phipps and Janney families, who have taken a conservative approach to racing their 3-year-olds.
All week, McGaughey said he agreed with that philosophy but could not help but hope that eventually a horse would come along who was unquestionably good enough to run the 1 1/4 miles against stiff competition. He felt Orb was that horse.
Orb’s win thwarted others trying to make their own history. Jockey Rosie Napravnik finished sixth aboard Mylute, unable to find a late kick that would have made her the first woman to win the Derby.
Another jockey, Kevin Krigger, was attempting to become the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902, but his horse Goldencents slipped all the way to 17th. Trainer Doug O’Neill could have become the seventh to condition back-to-back winners; he had I’ll Have Another last year.
Todd Pletcher saw his record in the Derby go to 1-for-36. Revolutionary was the best of his five finishers, and Verrazano, undefeated entering the race, was 14th.
McGaughey said after the race that he plans to ship Orb to Belmont Park in New York on Sunday. He’s not scheduled to come to Baltimore until “a few days before the race,” Janney said.
McGaughey said he thinks Orb has yet to run his best race.
“I’ve seen some things that make me think there’s more there,” he said.