By KEVIN HARRIS
In his first six attempts at fielding a horse in the Kentucky Derby, veteran trainer Shug McGaughey came up short of winning the “Run for the Roses” each time.
But on Saturday at Churchill Downs, the seventh time was the charm for the Lexington, Ky., native.
Orb, both the morning-line and betting favorite on Saturday, took the lead in the final stretch and proceeded to win the 139th Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths over second-place Golden Soul. It was Orb’s fourth victory in four starts this year, and the bay colt has lots of momentum heading into the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, on May 18 in Baltimore.
Orb’s winning time was 2:02.89. Orb won his final Derby prep race, the Florida Derby, on March 30 at Gulfstream Park by 2 3/4 lengths.
“It’s a huge, huge thrill for me,” said McGaughey, whose best finish in the Derby prior to Saturday was second by Easy Goer in 1989. “It’s a race I’ve always wanted to win and I’ve always wanted to compete in if I thought I had the right horse. Today we had the right horse.”
Along with having the right horse on Saturday, the 62-year-old trainer also had the right jockey in Joel Rosario. The 28-year-old, who is the hottest jockey in the nation with the most wins and earnings in the United State this year, became the first native from the Dominican Republic to both ride and win the Derby. Rosario guided 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom to victory in the Dubai World Cup earlier this year.
“It’s awesome,” Rosario said. “I won the $10 million Dubai World Cup and to win the Derby now, it’s like a dream. I am so happy for Shug McGaughey. I feel awesome. I was so far behind that I just let him be calm and relaxed and he was able to do it.”
Orb fell deep into the field in the early moments of the race. He was 16th at the half-mile pole and 17th at the three-quarters pole, as Palace Malice built a 3 1/2 length lead on the sloppy track that had been dampened by rain throughout the day.
Orb started making his charge to the front in the backstretch, picking off his competition one by one up the middle of the track. He moved up to fifth at the one-mile pole and then second at the top of the stretch, as he was 2 1/2 lengths behind leader Normandy Invasion.
Orb got past Normandy Invasion with about an eighth of a mile to go and pulled away to a special win for McGaughey.
“Shug was talking to me that he’s probably better to be on the outside,” Rosario said. “It worked out good.”
Orb paid $12.80 for a $2 win bet, $7.40 to place and $5.40 to show.
Along with being ecstatic about picking up the coveted Derby title, McGaughey was relieved to get the monkey off his back.
“The way it’s going to change my life is I won’t have to worry about it anymore, and I worried about it for a while,” said McGaughey, drawing laughs from the media in the post-race press conference. “I’ll sleep tonight. I might wake up early, but I’ll sleep tonight.
“This whole trip has been something that’s been different for me. The last five or six weeks have been about as an exciting five or six weeks that I’ve ever had.”
Dinny Phipps, part owner of Orb, was proud of his trainer afterwards.
“He does it the right way,” Phipps said. “He takes his time and lets the horse bring him the race.”
Runner-up Golden Soul, who had 35-1 odds at post time, paid $38.60 to place and $19.40 to show. Revolutionary, ridden by three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel, finished third and paid $5.40 to show.
“I thought he ran super,” Revolutionary trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He got shuffled back farther than we thought and he had to keep waiting to try to make up ground. But when he could start running, he did really well. He closed strongly and just ran out of ground.”
Revolutionary was one of five horses in the Derby saddled by Pletcher, who prepared 2010 Derby victor Super Saver. Pletcher’s other four horses finished in the middle of the pack. Charming Kitten placed ninth, Overanalyze was 11th, Palace Malice ended up 12th and Wood Memorial winner Verrazano finished 14th.
Normandy Invasion ended up fourth, followed by Mylute and Oxbow. The Hall of Fame combination of Gary Stevens and D. Wayne Lukas, who has won four Derby titles, handled Oxbow. Stevens, who has won the Derby three times, came out of retirement for the second time in January.
Lines of Battle finished seventh, while Lukas’ second horse Will Take Charge wound up eighth. Giant Finish was 10th and Java’s War finished 13th.
Itsmyluckyday placed 15th, followed by Frac Daddy, Goldencents, Vyjack and Falling Sky. University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino is a part owner of Goldencents, who is trained by last year’s Derby-winning trainer, Doug O’Neill.
A $2 exacta paid $981.60, a $2 trifecta registered $6,925.60 and a $2 superfecta paid $57,084. Saturday’s attendance was 151,616.