LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- His mud-spattered colt, Orb, was drawing clear 100 yards from the finish line, and that's when it hit Shug McGaughey. Finally, after a lifetime of hoping it would happen for him, it was. At 62, 34 years into a Hall of Fame training career, he was going to win the Kentucky Derby.
Before Saturday's race, the Lexington, Ky., native admitted his 0-for-6 Derby record was "a void that had to be filled.'' He fought back tears just after he did that.
"At the sixteenth pole, it looked like we had it,'' McGaughey said. "It means everything to me. I always dreamed of it and it finally came. I'm thrilled to death for [owners] Ogden Mills Phipps and Stuart Janney, and I'm thrilled to death for me.''
Joel Rosario rallied Orb wide entering the stretch and defeated 34-1 shot Golden Soul by 2½ lengths, with Revolutionary third, Normandy Invasion fourth and Mylute, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, fifth on a sloppy track before a crowd of 151,616 at Churchill Downs.
The favorite paid $12.80 after running 1¼ miles in 2:02.89 for his fifth straight win after losing his first three races as a 2-year-old. He earned $1,414,800, raising his total to $2.33 million.
f"Oh my God, it's awesome,'' said Rosario, the country's hottest rider. "I won the $10-million Dubai World Cup and now to win the Derby is like a dream. I'm so happy for Shug McGaughey.''
Trainer Todd Pletcher saddled five runners but couldn't get his second Derby win, dropping his record to 1-for-36. Besides Revolutionary, Pletcher finished ninth (Charming Kitten), 11th (Overanalyze), 12th (Palace Malice) and 14th (previously undefeated Verrazano). Vyjack, owned by former Hewlett Harbor resident David Wilkenfeld, was 18th of 19.
Rosario put up a brilliant tactical ride, keeping Orb far behind Palace Malice's suicidal pace (22.57-second quarter-mile, 45.33-second half-mile). Orb was 16th into the first turn and still about 15 lengths back in 17th after 6 furlongs. Then the 28-year-old Dominican decided it was time to move.
"I was so far behind,'' Rosario said, "but I just let him relax. I had a perfect trip. I didn't want to rush him, and when I asked him to run, he was able to do it.''
Normandy Invasion led Oxbow by half a length after a mile, when Orb had advanced to sixth, six lengths behind. At the eighth pole, Normandy Invasion seemed spent, and Orb was upon him, trailing by a head and looking like the winner.
"I figured Normandy Invasion had made his move,'' McGaughey said, "but like announcer Larry Collmus said, Orb still had a lot of work to do.''
Rosario had plenty of time to get it done.
None of the potentially historic story lines played out. Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who owns 5 percent of 17th-place Goldencents, could have hit the NCAA championship-Derby double. Kevin Krigger, on Goldencents, was trying to be the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902. Napravnik would have been the first female rider to get the roses. D. Wayne Lukas, 77, would have become the Derby's oldest winning trainer with Oxbow (sixth) or Will Take Charge (eighth).
Phipps, 72, and Janney Jr., 64, are first cousins from America's most prominent racing family. The family bred and owned many champions, including Buckpasser and Personal Ensign, but never a Derby winner. Janney's parents owned the magnificent filly Ruffian, and Orb was his first Derby starter.
Rain began before 9 a.m., and the track was downgraded to sloppy about 5½ hours before the Derby. It stopped more than an hour before the race. The scene was reminiscent of the 1989 Derby, when McGaughey's heavy favorite, Easy Goer, owned by Phipps' father, Ogden, finished second to Sunday Silence in the mud.
"The rain wasn't as wet today as it was in 1989,'' McGaughey joked.
"This is a huge thrill for me. The way it will change my life is I won't have to worry about winning the Derby anymore. I think I'll sleep well tonight.''