Sitting in the Churchill Downs interview room after finally—yes, finally—winning himself an edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Hall of Fame horseman Shug McGaughey admitted he had not been without concern when the sport's highest victory eluded him.
Thirty-four years of training, hundreds of runners, countless hours of breezing and saddling and cold-hosing and poultice, so many champions and yet no gold trophy—until this cold and rainy first Saturday in May.
"The way it's going to change my life is, I'm not going to have to worry about it anymore," said McGaughey, who won with his seventh Derby starter (he saddled his first in 1984). "Because I've worried about it for a while. And I might not let anybody know that, but inside, that thought was always there.
"It's a race I've always wanted to win, a race I've always wanted to compete in if I thought I had the right horse, and finally today we had the right horse."
"I think we've got our hands on a pretty special horse," McGaughey said. "To see what I saw today was just something different."
At the start of the year he was only a maiden winner, but if ever a Thoroughbred followed the old adage of "let the horse take you there," it was the runner owned in partnership by Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable. Orb, who took the March 30 Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) and the Feb. 23 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), made his fifth straight trip to the winner's circle when he won the Kentucky Derby.
"I do a lot from watch and feel," McGaughey said. "I like to be at the barn, and that's where I'm comfortable, and that's where I want to be, and that's the way I sort of monitor things."
Monitoring Orb, McGaughey said, will be the plan of the next few weeks as the colt heads back to the trainer's New York base the morning of May 5 and attentions change to Baltimore's May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), second jewel of the Triple Crown.
"I think he'll come out of this race good," McGaughey predicted. "We're set up better than anybody, and if everything is right, I can't wait to get to Preakness and do it again."