Orb is given a mint by Alison McGaughey, the wife of trainer Shug McGaughey, the day after his Kentucky Derby victory. (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
One day after Orb presented Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey with an elusive Kentucky Derby triumph, the colt was so ready to rock that he initially balked at returning to his stall after walking the shedrow in Barn 43 at Churchill Downs.
McGaughey was every bit as eager to move on to the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. “I’m looking forward to getting the process going again, and we’ll see what happens and go from there,” he said.
The first order of business was to ship the newly-crowned Derby champion back to his home base at Belmont Park in New York. McGaughey, who also headed home on Sunday morning, emphasized that his plan would stay fluid to meet the horse’s needs.
His initial thought, though, is to give the late-running son of Malibu Moon a breeze at the start of next week before shipping him to Pimlico. He wants to make sure the 3-year-old has ample time to acquaint himself with that surface and the configuration of that track. He intends to school him in the paddock at least once there.
As is his custom, McGaughey, 62, arrived at the barn early on Sunday. And the native of Lexington, Ky., remains as humble as ever as scores of well-wishers stopped by to offer congratulations.
“A lot of people are underneath the screen and nobody knows about who helped me get to where I am today,” he said. “I know who they are, and they are in my thoughts, too.”
McGaughey appears to have much on his side as Orb attempts to add the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes to his 2 ½-length Derby triumph and provide racing with its 12th Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978.
That starts, of course, with a 3-year-old who is doing everything right in winning five consecutive starts dating to last season. He has not been defeated since last Nov. 10, when he failed to break his maiden on his third try in a 6 ½-furlong contest at Aqueduct Racetrack.
But Orb has put far behind him the starting gate issues that slowed him early in his career. It appears he combines jaw-dropping acceleration with the staying power needed to flourish in the spring classics.
“I think we’ve got our hands on a pretty special horse,” McGaughey said.
McGaughey appears to have the right pilot to go with the right horse. Joel Rosario, who eagerly accepted the mount after John Velazquez opted to ride Verrazano for trainer Todd Pletcher, is as hot as riders can get. He topped the jockey standings for the prestigious Keeneland spring meet and announced his arrival at Churchill Downs by sweeping five races during the opening card.
“The more I’m around him,” McGaughey said, “the more amazed I am about the kind of kid he is. He’s got so much energy and so much ambition.”
It helps, too, that the trainer and his staff will not have to cope with meddling owners during their Triple Crown bid. Stuart Janney III and the Phipps family are as hands-off as it gets.
“I think it’s pretty unusual to have people as patient as they are and to have the relationship we’ve got between owner and trainer,” McGaughey said. “There is no interference whatsoever.”
As for McGaughey, he proved his abilities long ago in overseeing the careers of nine Eclipse Award champions and as many Breeders’ Cup winners. And now, in finally smelling the roses on the first Saturday in May, he has pretty much done it all.
ORB WAS GREETED BY FANS THE MORNING AFTER HIS DERBY WIN