Though the rains came early on Kentucky Derby Day, it wasn't enough to dampen the spirits of Lexington native Shug McGaughey as the veteran horseman and Hall of Famer watched his colt Orb come running late over the sloppy, sealed Churchill Downs oval to score a decisive 2 1/2-length victory in Derby 139.
It was the first Derby win for the trainer, jockey Joel Rosario and the homebred Orb's owners, longtime industry stalwarts Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stables.
Palace Malice set the early pace through a swift first quarter in :22 2/5 and the half in :45 1/5 while Rosario patiently settled Orb well back near the rear of the field while about three wide off the rail.
The early pace took its toll on the longtime leader, who got three-quarters in 1:09 4/5, and Normandy Invasion was the first to go after Palace Malice. For a brief moment, the well-named colt looked ready to give the veterans who traveled from across the United States a triumphant win in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, sweeping past the pacesetter entering the stretch and powering home through the mile in 1:36.
However, the rest of the field was quickly gaining ground, with Orb going best of all. Rosario had the Malibu Moon sophomore circle the final turn widest of all and the duo swallowed Normandy Invasion while easily holding the rest of the closers to stop the clock in 2:02 4/5.
Orb was sent off the 5-1 favorite in the 19-horse field, paying $12.80, $7.40 and $5.40. The $2 Oaks-Derby Double, with Princess of Sylmar taking the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, was worth $621.40.
Golden Soul filled out the runner-up spot, while another length back Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion and Mylute were separated by only two heads on the wire.
Oxbow filled out the sixth spot while completing the order of finish were Lines of Battle, Will Take Charge, Charming Kitten, Giant Finish, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Java's War, Verrazano, Itsmyluckyday, Frac Daddy, Goldencents, Vyjack and Falling Sky. Black Onyx was an early scratch on Friday and Fear the Kitten didn't draw in from the also-eligible list.
Orb began his Kentucky Derby quest last August at Saratoga, finishing third in a maiden special weight. He was a well-beaten fourth at Belmont next out, probably due to acting up in the gate prior to the race, and filled that same spot at Aqueduct in November before finally breaking through with a first win on November 24 at the Big A.
That would be the bay colt's final start as a juvenile, but he hasn't lost since. A nice win at Gulfstream Park opened his sophomore season on January 26, and Orb proceeded to take the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby prior to Saturday's Run for the Roses. Now owning just an 8-5-0-1 mark, the Kentucky-bred colt has banked $2,335,850.
Orb is out of the winning Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, who is herself a daughter of 1996 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan queen Mesabi Maiden. His third dam, Steel Maiden, ran second in the 1986 edition of that same race and is also the third dam of multiple Group 1 hero and dual Argentinean champion Suggestive Boy, who thus far this season has won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile and Arcadia.
Steel Maiden is a half-sister to Grade 1-winning sire Private Terms and a full sister to the dam of multiple Grade 1-scoring stallion Coronado's Quest. Her dam, Laughter, is a half-sister to all-time great Ruffian and successful Grade 2-winning sires Icecapade and Buckfinder.