Joel Rosario rides Orb to victory during the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
LOUISVILLE — Short name, long quest.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has a resume as long as the legendary Churchill Downs home stretch, but in 37 years the Kentucky native had not found the Winner's Circle in the Kentucky Derby.
The Phipps family, whose patriarch, Henry Phipps, Jr., was a childhood friend and neighbor of Andrew Carnegie, goes back in the sport even longer — six generations of owning and breeding horses — but never a victory in the sport's most famous race.
On Saturday Orb, a bay colt owned and bred by the Ogden Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III and trained by McGauhey, won one for the good guys. He ended what Churchill Downs vice president and Derby historian John Asher called a "patient quest" with a patient trip, rallying six-wide from 17th place in the 19-horse field to take a 2 1/2-length victory over a sloppy, sealed track in the 139th running of the race.
Before a crowd of 151,616 pelted all day by a steady rain, there weren't many dry eyes as McGaughey and the colt's connections made their way to the Winner's Circle. And as they sat together at the post-race news conference, the number of years of striving sitting side-by-side in front of the cameras was a poignant reminder of the difficulty of Derby victory.
"I'm a little emotional," said McGauhey, who made a point of only coming to the Derby when he had a colt he felt had a legitimate chance. "It's just a great, huge thrill. I'm just thankful. To be able to go over there and win, to be able to watch Mr. Phipps . . . It's just been, this whole trip has been something that's been different for me.
"I don't know, maybe the last five or six weeks has been about as exciting a five or six weeks as I've had. And to come over here [to Churchill Downs] and experience what we've experienced, from the fans and from the people to see this horse thrive the way that he's thrived, to come over here today and hear the fans and then to see the horse run the race he ran, it's just something I can't really put into words."
Joel Rosario, a 28-year-old jockey from the Dominican Republic who grew up using horses as much for transportation as recreation, continued a torrid hot steak. He won the Dubai World Cup earlier this year aboard Animal Kingdom and has been the leading rider at Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Hollywood Park. He navigated a shaky start and chose the wide move to bring Orb home in 2:02.89 for the mile and a quarter.
Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, age 72, said, "I started coming around here in 1957 with my grandmother when she had Bold Ruler . . . It's really the culmination of horse racing, and I'm thrilled to be here."
Stuart Janney, the first cousin of Phipps, owns Orb, along with Phipps' children.
"This horse's bloodline goes back to our grandmother, and Dinny's father was very instrumental in getting me to take over my parents' horses 20-some years ago," Janney said. "So I couldn't be more delighted that we're doing this together."
The race's early pace was quick, set by the Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice, who ripped through the opening quarter-mile in 22.57 seconds. Rosario steadied Orb after an awkward start and tucked him in four-wide early on.
"I was really far back," Rosario said. "I said hopefully he can go faster than that. I was saying maybe I was too far back, but it was so easy."
He angled farther outside after six furlongs, then made his bold move just before the stretch. He caught the leaders in midstretch and drew away. Longshot Golden Soul finished second for trainer Dallas Stewart and Pletcher's Revolutionary, ridden by Calvin Borel was third.
Orb, whose name matches the shortest ever for a Derby horse (Zev, 1923) paid $12.80 to win.
But his connections weren't the only ones vying for history.
Rosie Napravnik, aboard Mylute, fell short in a bid to become the first woman rider to win the race, but her fifth-place finish still is the best ever for a woman, and was a photo-finish away from hitting the board in third.
"I really had a great trip," she said. ". . . I have never wanted to win a photo for third so bad in my life."
Gary Stevens, who came out of a 7-year retirement to return to racing earlier this year, finished sixth aboard Oxbow.
"I've got a smile on my face I can't wipe off," said Stevens, who has been a successful analyst for NBC as well as acting credits in the film Seabiscuit and the HBO series, Luck. "It was fun because [Oxbow] ran his race. He got a chance today."
Pletcher matched a Derby record with five starters but was unable to capture his second win in the race.
Kevin Krigger, aboard Goldencents — trained by 2012 Derby winner Doug O'Neill and owned in part by University of Louisville coach men’s basketball Rick Pitino — finished 17th after dropping back suddenly late in the race and being eased up.
But at the end, the day belonged to McGaughey.
"I don't know what it will be like tomorrow morning when I pinch myself and figure all this out," he said.
After nine Breeders' Cup victories and just about every award his sport can bestow, a colt name Orb closed the circle not only for McGaughey, but for one of racing's most prominent families.