Orb charged from near the back of the 19-horse field, swung outside in the stretch and made a massive late run to win the 139th Kentucky Derby by 2-1/2 lengths.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — From now on, rainy Kentucky days will always make Shug McGaughey smile.
In 1989, a McGaughey-trained horse went to the gate as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and finished second on a muddy track. Since then, McGaughey’s Hall of Fame résumé has had an empty line.
McGaughey celebrated in the slop Saturday, as Orb charged from near the back of the 19-horse field, swung outside in the stretch and made a massive late run to win the 139th Kentucky Derby by 2 ½ lengths before a rain-soaked crowd of 151,616 at Churchill Downs.
“It’s a huge, huge thrill. It’s a race that I’ve always wanted to win,” McGaughey said. “Today, we had the right horse. I don’t know what I’ll be like tomorrow morning when I pinch myself and figure all this out.”
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McGaughey, 62, is a local favorite, not only because he is a Lexington, Ky., native but because of his folksy, understated nature. At some point, he also turned into an underdog. After Easy Goer finished second to Sunday Silence on that muddy track in 1989, McGaughey sent only one horse to the Derby before this year.
“I thought, ‘A day like today might have cost us one Kentucky Derby. Maybe it will turn around and help us.’ ” McGaughey said. “I’ve come to the Derby twice with good chances to win, and it rained both times.”
Orb went off as the favorite, but not a convincing one at odds of 5-1 despite a strong record that included four consecutive victories. He is the 13th horse to win the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
Orb won the $2,174,800 Kentucky Derby in 2 minutes, 2.89 seconds and returned $12.80 on a $2 bet.
Orb broke from post 15, near the outside, and jockey Joel Rosario followed McGaughey’s instructions to fall back and be well-placed going into the first turn. That seemed wiser when Palace Malice and Goldencents jumped to the lead and set a blistering early pace that was not sustainable for 1 ¼ miles.
On the backstretch, Orb sat in 17th place and bided his time. The early leaders fell back. Normandy Invasion charged and took the lead at the top of the stretch, but then the late runners made their charge.
Orb went six-wide at one point. Golden Soul, who went off at 34-1 odds, closed well to finish second and 6-1 shot Revolutionary made a run along the rail to finish third.
“Shug told me he’s probably better on the outside,” said Rosario, who also won his first Derby. “We were trying to save ground on the first turn. I thought I was perfect where I was placed.”
The rapid pace aided closers; the first three finishers were 17th, 15th and 18th with a half-mile to go.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out Revolutionary, Charming Kitten (ninth), Overanalyze (11th), Palace Malice (12th) and Verrazano (14th). Pletcher has had 36 Derby starters and one winner, Super Saver in 2010.
The sloppy track didn’t seem to bother Orb, who had never raced on a wet surface. The colt sired by Malibu Moon will head to the May 18 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico in Baltimore.
“To tell you the truth, I can’t wait,” McGaughey said.
Well regarded for decades, McGaughey has nine Breeders’ Cup victories and more than $116 million in earnings by starters, but had been cautious about sending horses to the Derby.
McGaughey said his philosophy is to only take his best horses to the Derby and said he never regretted passing up previous chances.
“He does it right,” Orb co-owner Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps said. “He takes his time.”
|Rallying in stretch|
|In the last 10 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, Smarty Jones (2004) is the only winner who was 1st, 2nd or 3rd with a half-mile to run in 1 ¼-mile race.|
|Year||Winner||Position with 1/2 mile left|
|2012||I’ll Have Another||6th|
|2009||Mine That Bird||19th|
|Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, 62, seldom catches Derby fever. Orb was his seventh Derby starter — and his first since 2002.|
|Year||Horse (odds to $1)||Finish|
|1989||Easy Goer (0.8*)||2nd|
|1989||Awe Inspiring (0.8*)||3rd|
|1988||Seeking the Gold (15.9)||7th|
|1984||Pine Circle (6.0*)||6th|
|* Coupled in the wagering with entrymate|