Chip McGaughey, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, and Reeve McGaughey on the muddy walkover to the 2013 Kentucky Derby with eventual winner Orb. (Photo courtesy of the Lexington Herald-Leader)
What is heralded as the greatest two minutes in sports ended up being the greatest day in my entire life.
Words cannot describe how incredible a day it was on that first Saturday in May of 2013 but I will attempt to do my best.
The morning started off great on the backside at my dad's barn (Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey). There was no rain and it was a very nice 65 degrees. That would all change soon though, and as the day’s races got underway the cold front everyone had feared came through and brought with it all the rain. This wasn’t just a little rain, it was a constant deluge and a fear crept into my mind that maybe today just wasn’t our day. Maybe the racing Gods were rooting against us.
ORB FOLLOWING THE DERBY
Orb had trained well in the slop but had never run in it, so I had confidence in him. But the Kentucky Derby is a funny race and anything could happen.
I made my first walkover on the muddy track with our first runner of the day, Hungry Island, in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile. The track was a mess and supposedly the turf was even worse. Hungry Island ran a great race but was caught just before the wire to run a close second.
After the race we got the low down on the turf condition from several of the jockeys, and based on their information my dad decided to scratch Point of Entry citing the welfare of the horse.
This would be a recurring thing throughout my father’s career. He always puts the horse’s best interest first and is never one to rush or force the issue. Unfortunately, the showdown that everyone was hoping for, the match up between Horse of the Year Wise Dan and Point of Entry, did not occur. This was very disappointing to me because I was very excited to see these two great horses compete against each other. But like my dad says, there is always another race.
Wise Dan went on to run an incredible race and win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes in impressive style and with class.
It seemed like almost immediately after the Woodford Reserve was run that the rain stopped. This made me happy because personally I was tired of walking around in it. Then the nerves started to kick in. It was time for the race that everyone was waiting for, the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.
It is hard to put into words how much this race means to my dad. Being that he is from Lexington, Ky., this is the one race he has always wanted to win.
Ever since I was little he talked about it being his ultimate goal.
THE ULTIMATE PRIZE IN U.S. RACING
During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2004 he ended by saying how he wanted to win this race for the Phipps’ and Janney’s. With Orb, this was his best chance since 1989 with Easy Goer, when he came up just short.
I was too young to remember that race but it was something that had always nagged him that he had not won it then. Well, today he was going to get another well-deserved opportunity.
As they got the horse ready, you could feel the excitement in the air. I know my father was nervous because he started to make his solitary walks down the shed row deep in contemplation and thought. Would this finally be his year?
Everything happened so fast from this point on, it still feels like a blur walking the horse to the track through the throngs of fans taking pictures and shouting well wishes. Once on the track, Orb met in line with all the other contenders and prepared for the big walk over. I walked ahead of horse and everyone else with my dad and brother Reeve. The walkover to the paddock during the Kentucky Derby is surreal. It is a feeling unlike any other. The 150,000 fans were in attendance all shouting well wishes and saying that it was “Shug’s time.”
I was sure hoping they were right.
Everything was fine in the paddock, although it seemed like we were in there for an eternity. My nerves probably had a little something to do with this. Finally, Charlie Strong led the spirited call of riders up and everything was put in motion. One by one, the horses left their stalls, the jockeys were given a leg up and the horses made the final trip around the walking ring and went through the tunnel out onto the track.
My dad has a tendency to be a little superstitious from time to time.
Just like the Florida Derby, we did not watch the race live. We watched it in a small office inside the tunnel and I was told there was a several-second delay on the TV that we were watching it on.
All the buildup came to this. We watched Vyjack get loaded into the gate last and it was time to go — the moment of truth.
I was just hoping that everything panned out to the way that I had imagined it in my head since the Florida Derby. Orb broke well and settled in far off of the very quick early pace. Mud was flying, so it was hard to keep track of him. But coming around the home turn, you could see him start to make his move coming up the outside. And what a move it was. He was flying through the slop passing all of his opponents with what appeared to be relative ease.
Entering the stretch, I knew he had a shot if he kept running. Larry Collmus’s great call of “Oooooorrrrbbb!!!!” could be heard on the TV over my brother and I shouting “Come on Orb!”
He pulled just ahead of the leaders, corrected himself a little bit toward the middle of the track and pulled clear to win by 2 ½ lengths. There was an ominous silence inside the room, no reactions whatsoever until someone in the office said to dad, “Shug, you just won the Kentucky Derby.”
Then it started to sink in.
Orb had done it.
We had won the greatest race in American Thoroughbred racing.
All of my Dad’s dreams and aspirations from since he started working with horses had come true. I couldn’t be happier for him and everyone involved.
Then came the madness.
We rushed out to the track. It didn’t feel like it was real. It honestly felt like a dream to be walking out to the winner’s circle and gazing upon a fully packed Churchill Downs and seeing all those people cheering for Orb.
WINNER'S CIRCLE CELEBRATION AT 2013 KENTUCKY DERBY
Hugs and congratulations were exchanged and no one could believe it had actually happened. I had seen Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear in a clothing store a week before the Derby, and I told him I hoped that I got to see him up on that podium after winning the Derby with Orb. I definitely got to tell him a big “I told you so” and it could not have felt better.
All week everyone had been telling dad how it was his time and how they hoped we won. I guess it truly was. Seeing all the outpouring respect and well wishes from everyone in the industry is amazing to me.
It seemed like even if people were racing against us they were still pulling for us to win. This is something I will never forget and makes me have even more respect and admiration for my father and the person that he is.
HALL OF FAME TRAINER McGAUGHEY LEADS ORB INTO WINNER'S CIRCLE
I am so grateful to have been able to spend this incredible day with him and all of the connections. This win was so important to the Phipps family and the Janneys, and I am so happy that they finally captured the one race that had consistently eluded them.
Every single person involved with this horse deserves credit for the win. It was a team effort and could not have been accomplished without hard work and sacrifice from everyone. I am just glad I was able to go along for the ride.
Kentucky Derby 139 was truly won by one of the “good guys,” and it is a moment that I will never forget.
REEVE McGAUGHEY, TREY GOSSOM, AND CHIP McGAUGHEY SAVOR THE MOMENT