Winning trainer: McGaughey thought his day might never come

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMay 4, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — Countless hands patted his royal blue sport coat.

Hands muddied with a sloppy Churchill Downs track, hands with perfectly manicured nails and loads of sparkly diamonds.

And all Shug McGaughey could do was clasp his own hands in front of him and stand with his mouth open wide, a smile that seemed to bridge the Twin Spires directly behind him.

McGaughey had waited his whole life for this moment, all 62 years of it, for this moment, and he was lost in it.

"It's just something I can't put into words," McGaughey would say later. "Maybe one day when I settle down, I'll be able to put it into words."

McGaughey had won plenty of races. He'd won the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup races. He'd won the Travers Stakes and the Wood Memorial. He was in the Hall of Fame.

But he'd never won the Kentucky Derby, not in six previous tries, dating all the way back to 1984.

The kid from Chevy Chase, who grew up on Lakewood Avenue and attended Tates Creek High School. The kid who started in the business by cleaning out stalls had started to wonder if maybe he wasn't meant to win the big race in his home state.

He came close in 1989, when Easy Goer finished a disappointing second to Sunday Silence, a race that McGaughey said he has never watched on tape.

Maybe he'd never win the Derby. Maybe he could live with that.

"It's something he'd think about," said Alison McGaughey, his wife of 16 years. "But he waits for the horse."

The man who had trained for 30-plus years wondered if maybe that elusive horse wouldn't come.

"I've worried about it for a while," he said of never winning the Kentucky Derby. "I might not have let anybody know that, but inside it's always there."

On the morning of the race, as the heavy clouds spit rain, McGaughey tried to steady himself.

"Just enjoy the race," he said he told himself. "If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't."

As Orb crossed the finish line, it was like those same clouds had floated to the ground, and suddenly he was walking on them. McGaughey's smile got wider, and tears started to gather in the corners of his eyes.

"I'm going to watch this one quite a bit, I think," McGaughey said. "This one's a little more special than any of them."

Alison said it's more than just a little special. "It's a dream come true for him. He's thought about this his whole life. ... This moment is perfect."

But maybe it won't be as perfect as moments yet to come.

After a post-race party for the winners, she and Shug planned to go back to the barn to find Orb and give him "his candies."

Another moment sure to follow, his wife said, is when all of this will sink in for the Kentucky kid.

"Once we get home and sit down, I'm sure we'll both be bawling our eyes out," Alison said.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:

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