A tearful Shug McGaughey — hometown favorite and everybody’s all-around “good guy” — won his first Kentucky Derby, thanks to a spectacular run by Orb, undeterred by mud and a bruising pace. Claiborne-bred Orb was one of three Kentucky-breds to hit the boards but his first-place finish was a first — finally — Derby win for long-time trainer McCaughey who said, “I didn’t think we’d be here. . .” That was, until the Florida Derby when hope reared its head and he began to think it just might happen. “It worked out,” an emotional McCaughey said. And now, the possibility of a Triple Crown this year can only belong to McGaughey, Orb and owner Ogden Phipps.
Shug McGaughey was the subject of an earlier KyForward feature by Liane Crossley which we are happily sharing again with our readers — along with a big “congratulations!” to Shug McGaughey for achieving his dream:
Shug McGaughey says he has daily thoughts of winning the Kentucky Derby. After more than three decades of training racehorses at the highest levels, he has yet to win the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May but the Lexington native has come remarkably close. In 1989, he sent out Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring to finished second and third, respectively.
Shug McGaughey (Photo provided)
“I think about it probably every day and I have for years and years and years,” he said. “I would have liked to have won it earlier so I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore, but that wasn’t the way it happened. It is on top of my list of races I would like to win and it always has been.”
In a career punctuated by induction in the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004, McGaughey has conditioned some of racing’s brightest stars. One of his current luminaries is Orb, a 3-year-old colt who solidified his status as a top Kentucky Derby contender when he won the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream Park. The triumph was his fourth in seven career starts and pushed his earnings to nearly $1 million. Orb has not lost since scoring his initial career victory this past November.
“It is pretty exciting,” McGaughey said. “We are looking forward to it. I have not participated in the Derby a whole lot (six times) but I have finished second and third. I’d like to have the opportunity to win it and I hope Orb is the horse to do it.”
The name Orb, which means globe, is derived from the colt’s sire Malibu Moon. He races for the partnership of Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable who also own his dam Lady Liberty and therefore are listed as Orb’s breeder.
Back home at Keeneland
McGaughey is overseeing his Keeneland division of 17 horses while Orb remained at Payson Park training center in south Florida. “After I left (Florida on March 31), I started getting a little excited, but five weeks to the Derby is a long way off,” McGaughey said. “When you get over there [to Churchill Downs] you have to enjoy the moment and not let it mess up your mind.”
As the countdown to the Derby continues, McGaughey is relishing his time in his hometown of Lexington, where he grew up attending the Keeneland races. He tried college, but left the University of Mississippi to continue working as a groom. He obtained his trainer’s license in the late 1970s and after proving his astute horsemanship by winning major races, he accepted the position as trainer for the renowned Phipps family stable in 1985. One of his early hires was childhood friend Buzz Tenney, who is still his primary assistant trainer.
“It’s always a big thrill to come to Keeneland,” McGaughey said. “We enjoy coming here, we enjoy competing here, we enjoy the excitement. I grew up coming to Keeneland and winning a race at Keeneland whether it is a maiden race or a stakes race means a lot. It makes it a lot of fun.”
McGaughey’s two children with his former wife Mary Jane Featherston McGaughey have followed him into the Thoroughbred business. The oldest son, Chip, works in marketing for America’s Best Racing, a multimedia fan development platform initiated by The Jockey Club. Reeve is based year-round at Keeneland where he works for trainer Charlie LoPresti. One of Reeve’s chief responsibilities is sharing in caring for Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
Their interest in Thoroughbred racing is far from surprising. Their mother was a top-notch exercise rider in the McGaughey stable, and they spent their younger days going to the barn and the races. Their continued involvement serves as a bond. While some families might stuggle for conversation, McGaughey and his sons can always talk horses.
“We can relate to it,” McGaughey said. “Chip’s involvement in America’s Best Racing and trying to bring enthusiasm to the races is fun and with Reeve– who has a very good eye and a very good feel for what he is doing–it is fun to listen to them and relate to them. If they didn’t have an interest (in racing), we wouldn’t have anything in common because this is about all I know.”
Lexington-based freelance writer Liane Crossley is a lifelong lover of Thoroughbred racing who has held a variety of jobs in both barns and offices. Her favorite part of the industry is being with the horses and the people who share her passion for them.