By TIM THORNBERRY
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The first line of My Old Kentucky Home, the state’s official song reads, “The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home.”
That was not the case last Saturday as the world looked on to watch the Kentucky Derby, arguably the most famous horse race in the universe.
It rained most of the day and was cloudy and cool; not the sunny day hoped for by the more than 150,000 fans that made their way to the track or the league of reporters who came from all parts of the globe or the people in charge of caring for the track and the list goes on.
But unlike NASCAR which stopped its race in Talladega, Ala., for three hours because of rain, the Kentucky Derby ran on schedule much to the delight of a horse named Orb and his trainer called Shug.
The Kentucky native, Claude “Shug” McGaughey grew up in the heart of horse country and said before the race, the Derby was the one he always wanted.
His quiet demeanor and stocky frame make him look more like a grandpa or favorite uncle but McGaughey, a Hall of Fame trainer based in New York since 1986, is in the same league as all the famous names, like Lukas and Baffert, Stephens and Zito. But the Kentucky Derby had always eluded him, until last Saturday. In the press conference held after the race, McGaughey said it was a huge thrill to win the race.
“It’s a race I have always wanted to win and always wanted to compete in and I thought I had the right horse and found today we had the right horse,” he said. “There are a lot of people to thank;
I’m just the person who pushed the button.”
He added that he had been more excited than nervous on Derby day and his horse had done everything well and had done everything well all winter. The horse worked well on the track at Churchill Downs all week and even handled all the events going on around him such as being in the busy paddock area and even the post parade where the horses come out on the track before the thousands of race fans.
The owners of Orb, Stuart Janney and Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, were present at the post-race press conference. It was Phipps’ father who won a coin toss against another horse owner named Penny Chenery for a pick between a filly and a colt from their famous stallion, Bold Ruler. Phipps picked the filly and the colt would become known as Secretariat.
While it became a pivotal point in the Walt Disney movie about Secretariat, it didn’t seem to matter much to the co-owner of this year’s Derby. He said in the press conference about his first Derby win that he was thrilled.
McGaughey when asked how winning the Derby would change his life, replied, “Well, I’m not going to have to worry about it anymore because I worried about it for a while … inside that thought was always there.”
Ironically, it was a day, weather wise, much like last Saturday in 1989 when McGaughey brought another horse named Easy Goer to the Derby and finished second.
The Derby is the first race in the famed Triple Crown series. Orb will now be on his way to the Preakness held in Baltimore in two weeks. If the horse manages to win there, he will head to his home court at Belmont in New York.
“I’m just thankful to have had the opportunity and a chance to win,” McGaughey said after the race.