Three thoughts from Orb's victory at the Kentucky Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Three thoughts off a gloomy 139th Kentucky Derby won by Orb and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey:
1. Shug McGaughey finally gets his Kentucky Derby win with Orb's heart-pounding comeback down the stretch.
Orb, the post-time co-favorite at 6-1, negotiated a torrid early pace set by 22-1 Palace Malice, winning the $1,439,800 purse in the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses in 2:02.89.
It's the first time a co-favorite or favorite has won the Derby since Big Brown in 2008. Long shot Golden Soul was second and Revolutionary, the other co-favorite, was third.
"Oh my God, this is awesome," were jockey Joel Rosario's first words in his NBC interview shortly after the win on the muddy Churchill Downs track. "Shug McGaughey, I'm so happy for him."
Lexington's McGaughey, 62, entered Orb in his return to the Derby for the first time since 2002. Orb had won his last four races, including the Florida Derby. The Hall of Famer McGaughey owns more than 1,760 race wins since 1979, $100 million in purses, a Belmont Stakes victory and nine Breeders' Cup races. But never a Derby -- until Saturday.
"It means everything to me," he told NBC, emotionally, in his Southern drawl. "I've always dreamed of this day, and it finally came."
Orb fell behind early to 15th or 16th in the 19-horse race in the first half mile, but picked off horses in sloppy conditions. Orb was in prime position down the stretch in the middle of the track with clear space in front and powered ahead to win by two-and-one-half lengths.
Here's how the other big Derby-week stories fared:
• Calvin Borel couldn't pace Revolutionary to his fourth Kentucky Derby victory in seven years, despite a surge in support from fourth-place (10-1) on Thursday to become the 6-1 co-favorite.
• Revolutionary is trained by Todd Pletcher, who won his only Derby with Borel aboard Super Saver in 2010. The meticulous son of a trainer, Pletcher, 45, entered a record-tying five horses among the field of 19 (he is now 1-for-36 at the Derby). His other top entrant was the previously undefeated Verrazano, which Pletcher personified to LeBron James in terms of versatility. John Velazquez, who had missed nearly all of April after injuries sustained from a fall, piloted Verrazano to a disappointing 14th place.
• Goldencents, partially owned by the tattooed Rick Pitino, finished 17th. Its trainer, Doug O'Neill, was trying to become the first trainer to win back-to-back derbies since fellow Californian Bob Baffert in 1997-98. Its jockey, Kevin Krigger, was the second African-American to ride in the Run for the Roses since 1921. No African-American jockey has won the Kentucky Derby since Jimmy (Wink) Winkfield in 1902.
• Rosie Napravnik's second attempt to become the first female jockey to win fell short. She took Mylute to fifth place, the best finish ever by a female jockey.
2. One of the wettest Derby days in recent memory upped the unpredictability.
It began to drizzle as I came off my plane at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and reached steady showers by lunch time—more than a quarter of an inch in the 24 hours before post time, according to Weather.com. It just about subsided as Martina McBride sang the national anthem at 5:08, but the influence was still evident at the 6:34 post time.
Every year, officials describe the track conditions using one of four adjectives—fast, good, muddy and sloppy. The track deteriorated from good to sloppy by early afternoon, just the seventh sloppy Derby ever (but fourth since the thunderstorm-drenched 2004). The last two sloppy Derbies were won by the same jockey: Borel.
A Slip 'n Slide entertained the infield well before peak inebriation. The drenched crowd, announced at 151,616, squeezed like sardines under the stands in oversized ponchos, trash bags and even hazmat suits. Umbrellas aren't allowed entrance at Churchill Downs, so they were piled outside security entrances. Hats were defenseless. It wasn't pretty.
Forty years ago Sunday, Secretariat set the still-standing track record of 1:59.40. There's a tie with Orb, owned by Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable. The Phipps family could have owned the great Secretariat if not for a 1968 coin-toss decision that left it with a filly named The Bride instead.
3. Onto the Preakness Stakes.
Orb is expected to head to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for the second and shortest leg of the Triple Crown on May 18. Thoroughbred racing, a sport vanishing in popularity, is slogging through its longest Triple Crown winner drought since Sir Barton became the first to sweep in 1919, the same year the 18th Amendment (prohibition) was ratified.
It's now been 35 years since Affirmed outdueled Alydar in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978. Twelves horses have won the Derby and Preakness since Affirmed. Of them, four took second in the Belmont, five were third, but the two most recent became even greater afterthoughts in the "Test of the Champion."
Under-trained Big Brown eased up in dead last in 2008. Undersized I'll Have Another showed signs of tendinitis in his left front leg in a workout the day before last year's Belmont Stakes, was scratched and retired.
The Boston Marathon bombings influenced security strengthening at Pimlico, where backpacks and duffel bags won't be allowed. And, for what it's worth, the Old Farmer's Almanac's prediction for May 18-23 in Baltimore is, "Sunny, then heavy rain, cool."