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Features - RACING

To view the first diary from Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, click here.

Shug McGaughey has saddled nine Eclipse Award champions and nine Breeders’ Cup winners during a Hall of Fame training career that has spanned more than three decades. The native of Lexington, Ky., looks to win the race of his dreams as he prepares Orb for the Kentucky Derby on May 4. McGaughey, 62, is taking visitors to America’s Best Racing along for the ride. Here is the second installment of his Derby Diary, as told to Tom Pedulla:

I could not stop smiling after Orb worked four furlongs in 47 4/5 seconds on Monday at Churchill Downs. I felt relieved to have it behind us and I was elated with how well it went. I sent him out with Jennifer Patterson, who has worked him every time and is able to give me what I want every time. She is a huge part of our team and she delivered again.

One of Orb’s few flaws is a tendency to wait on horses once he makes the lead, thinking he has done enough. So I sent him out with a stablemate, Overwhelming, as company with the hope that he would put her away and keep on going. He did that as easily as you would ever want to see. Jennifer said she never had him at a high gallop.

The work was another sign of what I have known since he shipped from Payson Park to Churchill Downs. Not all horses like this track. He is just fine with it and, after running him three times at speed-favoring Gulfstream Park, I cannot wait to run him here. I would not be surprised if he is the post-time favorite. He has done so well here and people have seen it.


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In this business, it is rare when everything goes according to plan. So far, this has. He had gate problems early in his career, so that is always something for us to pay attention to. He went to the gate last Friday morning and he was perfect. I schooled him in the paddock last Saturday. It went as well as I could expect.

I can’t tell you how he is going to handle the huge crowd on Derby day. It is a concern, but it is a concern for every horse. It is something they have never seen before and will never see again. We’ll just try to stay cool – him and me.

I know I will get nervous as the big day approaches. For now, I keep telling myself that we have done everything we can do. We needed things to go the right way, and they have. My people have done a wonderful job of being as all in as I am. It takes a team, and I could not be happier with the members of my team.

That group includes, of course, our jockey, Joel Rosario. As pleased as I was with how John Velazquez handled Orb when he won the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby, I was equally satisfied to regain Rosario once Velazquez took another direction with Verrazano.

Rosario rode the horse earlier and no jockey in the world is hotter than he is right now. He is on fire. His confidence has to be through the roof, and my confidence in him is through the roof. He is a young, energetic rider trying to get accomplished what every young rider – and one older trainer – wants to get accomplished.

I will not give him a lot of prerace instructions. I know our horse will go the mile and a quarter, and that means a lot. I do think it will be important to get Orb into the race early. There does not look to be a great deal of pace and I do not want to leave him with too much to do. Beyond that, I will wish Joel good luck and tell him to ride his race because no one can be sure what will happen once those gates open.

It has meant so much the last few weeks to have people I never met before wish us good luck. I was going through the airport in New York last weekend and it happened. It seems that everywhere I go, people are wishing us well.

I have been asked many times what it would mean to my career to finally win the Derby. I can only tell you this is the race that is on top of my list and has been for a long time.

Will it happen? With a 20-horse field, so much will depend on the trip. If all goes well, I think we have a tremendous opportunity to win. If it does not, we will pack up and wait for the next crop of 2-year-olds to arrive with the hope they always bring.


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