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Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Shug McGaughey, a native of Lexington, Ky. who became a Hall of Fame trainer, emphatically ended his decades-long pursuit of a Kentucky Derby triumph when Orb brought home the roses by 2 ½ lengths before a massive crowd at Churchill Downs.

McGaughey, 62, is taking visitors to America’s Best Racing along for the ride as he works toward the Preakness Stakes on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and a possible Triple Crown bid. Affirmed was the last to perform one of the most difficult feats in all of sports, sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1978.

Here is the first installment of McGaughey’s Preankess Diary, as told to Tom Pedulla:

The media kept asking me before the Kentucky Derby what it would feel like to win the race I always placed at the top of my list. It was a question I could not answer because I had never had the experience.

Now that I have, it is still hard to put that thrill into words. It will always be a day unlike any other, a day that will never leave me.


I also can say that the outpouring of support was overwhelming. It was something I never expected and it came in all forms – texts, e-mails, calls and notes. It meant a great deal John Nerud and Jack Van Berg, former trainers I have immense respect for, reached out to congratulate me.

Other communication was from people I did not know. In a way, that made it all the more special. The media, too, was very kind in acknowledging my career, the quality of the horse, and the contributions of a staff that worked tirelessly to make that happen.

Derby day was exhausting and energizing at the same time. I was glad to get home when it was over. But every night when I go to bed, I cannot wait for the morning. I could not be more eager to get to the barn and to step into Orb’s stall to see how he is doing. I make sure we have everything covered in getting him ready for the Preakness.

Luckily, the horse came out of the race really well. The morning after the Derby, he was in the front of his stall, sticking his head out and enjoying the attention as cameras clicked and television cameras rolled. When he returned to Belmont Park less than a day after running, he sure did not look as though he had gone a mile and a quarter in the mud.

I made sure to go very easy with him the first few days after he returned to New York. I have no concerns about his fitness. My plan is to give him a light work on Monday at Belmont Park. That was my pattern with him all winter, working him on Monday for a Saturday race. Horses do well when they keep to a routine. The same is true for trainers, or at least this trainer.

My only instructions to exercise rider Jennifer Patterson before he breezes will be to make sure he finishes and gallops out nicely. Then it will be on to Pimlico. I want to make sure he gallops three or four days there. I will school him in the paddock at least once, depending on how that goes.

The questions about our Triple Crown chances are already starting. I would not be telling the truth if I said I do not think about it. But I have been careful not to get ahead of myself throughout my career. I have always been sure to take it one race at a time.

There is no reason to change now, no matter how high the stakes may be.


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