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Features - LIFESTYLE

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 Saturday 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 second installment of McGaughey’s Preankess Diary, as told to Tom Pedulla:

I am not one to often use superlatives. Anyone who knows me can tell you that is not my style. But I did not hesitate to use them after Orb’s work on Monday at Belmont Park. He went a half-mile in 47.18 seconds, and the ease with which he did it gave me chills. It was nothing short of magnificent.

He broke off very relaxed and finished up unbelievably, just on his own. I was shocked when I looked at my watch and saw he worked from the eighth pole to the wire in 11-and-change without his exercise rider, Jennifer Patterson, ever pushing him. He was covering the ground as good as a horse can cover it. He galloped out five furlongs in 59.54 seconds, dropped his head and walked home.

It reminded me of his final work at Churchill Downs before the Derby, which set him up perfectly for that race. I can only hope this breeze (the fifth-fastest of 96 works at the distance that morning at Belmont Park) has the same effect.

I wish I could say the draw on Wednesday at Pimlico went as well. I was hoping to be anywhere on the outside. Instead, we drew the rail. While it is not where I want to be, I don’t think it is a big deal, either. It certainly is not the problem it would have been at Churchill Downs, where you have 19 horses looking for a good position around the first turn.

We are facing eight other horses here and, with the pace I see on paper, I expect the field to spread out pretty quickly. Orb will have plenty of dirt come his way from the rail, but that is nothing new for him. He faced that in every race due to his late-running style. He will battle his way through that. No problem.

I am being asked a lot of questions about the competition. I really just focus on my horse. I will point out that, other than D. Wayne Lukas’ three starters, only six other horses were willing to take another shot at Orb. I find that interesting. Let’s leave it as that.

As was the case before the Derby, I will not give our jockey, Joel Rosario, many instructions. He knows the horse. He knows Orb has the tactical speed to place him wherever he wants to be. I do not expect the turns at Pimlico to be a problem as they were for Easy Goer. This horse handles turns very well and does a lot of running there.

But Joel also knows we have a target on our backs after winning the Derby. Every other rider will know where Orb is at all times. I will emphasize one point to him: When you hit the backside, make sure you have someplace to go. And then we must hope our horse is good enough from there.

Thanks to the owners, Mr. Janney and Mr. Phipps, Orb, Joel and my great team at the barn, these last two weeks provided me with thrills that will be with me forever. If we can win the Preakness, the excitement level will only increase over the next three weeks as we prepare for the Belmont Stakes and a shot at the Triple Crown.

I would like to know how that feels.


The connections of Orb explain how he developed from an allowance race winner to Kentucky Derby victor in just a few short months.

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