Shug McGaughey may be the least braggadocious trainer on the backstretch.
It’s a measure of his confidence in Kentucky Derby winner Orb that McGaughey is embracing not only the next step toward a Triple Crown, but the pressure that comes with it from the public and potential rivals.
It took him over 30 years as a head trainer to finally win the Derby, and now that he has, he wants everything that comes with it, including the increasingly hot spotlight.
“I hope the target’s really big,” McGaughey said outside Barn 43 at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning. “And I want it to be on me. I can take it, and, like I said, I enjoyed this experience, and I’m going to enjoy the next one just as much. If we’re able to pull it off next time, then the target’s going to get really big. And I want it that way.”
While McGaughey was trackside for an appearance on the “Today Show,” Orb was the target of much affection and attention in his stall, where he happily munched on his hay rack and made his bay presence available for photo ops by watching dozens of reporters cool their heels.
Orb, who finished 2 1⁄2 lengths ahead of long shot Golden Soul in the Derby on Saturday, arrived home on the Belmont Park backstretch Sunday afternoon, and will probably travel to Baltimore for the May 18 Preakness a week from Tuesday.
McGaughey said Orb’s demeanor and physical bearing were exactly as he found them the day after the colt won the Florida Derby in his previous start.
Unless the Kentucky Derby effort hits him in the next few days, Orb, owned by Phipps Stables and Stuart Janney, should have no difficulty coming back in two weeks to race again.
Based on his authoritative win in the Derby, rumblings and speculation have begun that he has Triple Crown potential.
There hasn’t been one since Affirmed in 1978; last year, I’ll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness, then was retired the day before the Belmont Stakes with an injury.
Bring it on, McGaughey said.
“I’m glad to be in this position,” he said. “This is the position I’ve wanted to be in for 30-some odd years. I’ve enjoyed it, and enjoyed telling my story a little bit.
“I had a quiet confidence, from everything I saw. You never know. The best have gotten beat. But I was very excited all week, and quietly confident that I was going to see what we saw. I wasn’t that nervous. I was eagerly anticipating running him, and I’m going to be the same way if everything’s right and we go to Pimlico. I’m thrilled to death, but also for the Phippses and Janneys and the people who work around here who make everything happen.”
Besides Orb, Derby runners who are expected to run in the Preakness are Oxbow, Will Take Charge, Itsmyluckyday, Goldencents and perhaps Mylute.
Also expected to run is Illinois Derby winner Departing.
Fear the Kitten, who was scratched from the Derby as an also-eligible, is possible.
Trainer Bob Baffert said Governor Charlie is probable, and he’s also considering Power Broker and Code West.
Trainer Kenny McPeek’s Bellarmine could wind up in the Preakness after winning a solid allowance at Churchill on Derby day.
Another logical possibility is Heat Press, who was second in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico for Maryland-based Sagamore Farm.
Chad Brown said Normandy Invasion, who finished fourth as Brown’s first Derby horse, would skip the Preakness, with the ultimate goal making it to the Travers at his hometown track, Saratoga Race Course.
“I don’t know what our next move would be,” the Mechanicville native said. “I know what I want to do; this is my Travers horse. I don’t know what I’ll do between now and then. We’ll talk abut it. He will run. I don’t know where or when or how many times.”
There was some question whether jockey Javier Castellano moved too soon heading into the far turn, but Brown said he had no problem with the ride.
Normandy Invasion surged to the lead heading into the stretch, but tired at the eighth pole as Orb rolled past him.
“Did my jockey move a little soon into a quick pace there on the turn? I don’t know,” Brown said. “When you’re riding on a sloppy track and you’re following a live horse like Verrazano from the half-mile pole home; when Verrazano picked it up, Javier made the decision to go with him. Watching it unfold live, I thought it was a good move.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said that none of his five horses are likely to run in the Preakness.
Some of them, including third-place finisher Revolutionary, will point to the Belmont on June 8.
“It was a shame he had all the trouble he did with position during the race,” Pletcher said. “The way he galloped out, I wish he’d have had a clear path so he could have shown what he could do.”
McGaughey said he was just as disappointed as fans who were denied a Point of Entry/Wise Dan duel in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Derby card.
McGaughey scratched Point of Entry after consulting with jockey John Velazquez, who rode Stopshoppingmaria on the turf course in the eighth race, the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. He was scheduled to ride Point of Entry.
“He said the going would be very difficult for him, especially going a mile and an eighth, where he’s got to ride him maybe a little bit more than at a mile and a quarter, mile and a half, where he could hold him together,” McGaughey said. “My thinking was, a lot of times when you take them out of their running style, that’s when they get hurt.
“I didn’t want to be here on May the 4th regretting something I’d done, when there’s all these big races coming up. Our main goal is the Breeders’ Cup. I just didn’t want to take the chance. But I do, do appreciate what you’re saying, and I’m disappointed, also, that we couldn’t run. Believe me, if it had stopped raining after the fourth race, he would’ve run.”
Point of Entry will point toward the Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day. . . .
Nehro, who was second to Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Derby, was euthanized on Saturday due to complications of colic. . . .
Jackson Bend, 12th in the Derby and third in the Preakness in 2010, is back in training after having been retired.
He worked five furlongs in 1:03.40 at Calder on Sunday.