LOUISVILLE — Orb, who was 16th in the early going and 17th after six furlongs, circled the field on the final turn and powered to a 2 1/2-length victory in the 139th Kentucky Derby Saturday at historic Churchill Downs.
The chestnut son of Malibu Moon (hence his name) covered 1 1/4 miles on a track rated sloppy in 2:02.89 and paid $12.80 as the favorite in a field of 20 3-year-olds. He gave his trainer, Lexington, Ky., native Shug McGaughey, the victory he has dreamed about “all my life.”
It also was the first Derby victory for jockey Joel Rosario and for co-owners-breeders Stuart S. Janney III and the Phipps Stable headed by Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps II. Janey and Phipps are brothers-in-law.
The race had a purse of more than $2 million, with $1.44 million going to Orb for the win.
Palace Malice, a 22-1 shot, took the field through the first quarter-mile in 22.59 seconds, the half-mile in 45.33 and six furlongs in 1:09.80, one of the fastest six furlongs in Derby history. At that point Palace Malice led by three lengths, but he was visibly tiring.
He had faded to third by the head of the quarter-mile stretch (one mile in 1:36.16) and ended up finishing 12th.
Normandy Invasion, who had been close to the pace the entire way, then took a brief lead, but Orb was in high gear on the outside and had advanced to fourth place, having passed 11 horses on the far turn. Orb took the lead just past mid-stretch, got a few taps of the whip from Rosario to keep his mind focused on the task at hand, then resolutely took off.
Golden Soul, a 31-1 shot, also closed from far back (15th) to finish second, one length in front of Revolutionary, the second choice at 6-1 and one of five horses in the race trained by Todd Pletcher.
Revolutionary closed from 18th as the top three all took advantage of the fast pace. It was another head back to Normandy Invasion, a 9-1 shot who was the only horse who ran close to the pace to finish well.
“It’s awesome,” said Rosario, a native of the Dominican Republic. “To win the Derby, it’s like a dream. I’m so happy for Shug McGaughey.
“I was so far behind I just let him be calm and relaxed, then I steered him to the outside because I didn’t want to get blocked. He did the rest.”
McGaughey, a 62-year-old who is in the racing Hall of Fame because he had won a number of big races over the years, has never the Run for the Roses.
“I thought we had a big shot at the top of the stretch,” McGaughey said. “Around the eighth pole I thought we could win. I’ve been dreaming of this all my life. It finally came true. I’m tickled to death for the Phipps and the Janneys and all the people who have been around this horse. And for me.”
A saturated crowd of 151,616 was on hand on a rainy day.
Orb. who is an offspring of the Unbridled dam Lady Liberty, earned $1,414,800 for his victory. He’s now 5-0-1 in eight starts and has earned $2,335,850. It was his fifth victory in a row and followed a victory in the Florida Derby on March 30.
McGaughey said that was the race that convinced him that Orb could win the Derby.
“He did everything well all winter, but I wasn’t thinking Derby until he won the Florida Derby,” McGaughey said. “We shipped him up here, and he seemed to like the track. He worked really well last Monday, and he was terrific in the paddock and the post parade.
So when they sprung the latch I thought to myself, just enjoy the race, if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Luckily, it worked today.”
McGaughey, who has been the private trainer for the New York-based Phipps Stable for over 30 years, had previously started just six horses in the Derby because the stable doesn’t believe in rushing horses. He finished second to Sunday Silence with heavily favored Easy Goer in 1989.
“”That race bothered me a long time,” he said. He then started just four other horses in the Derby before Saturday, his best finish being a sixth.
“But I’d lie awake at night thinking about the Derby,” he said. “I grew up with it. It was a hole in my resume. I’ll sleep well tonight, if I get to sleep at all!”
McGaughey indicated that Orb would make his next start in Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes in two weeks as he continues on the Triple Crown trail.
“I can’t wait to get to the Preakness and do it again,” he said.
Should Orb win the Preakness, the next stop would be the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, which is McGaughey’s home base.
“I think we’ve got our hands on a pretty special horse,” McGaughey said. “I’ve seen some things that make me think there is more there. I think he’s still learning.”