BALTIMORE — The worst part wasn't so much that Shug McGaughey was disappointed for himself that Orb didn't win the Preakness.
The worst part was the disappointment he felt for all those who wanted Orb to win the Preakness.
"I felt the pressure because of that," said the trainer, standing on the Pimlico dirt track where just moments before his Kentucky Derby winner had finished a surprising fourth in the second leg of the Triple Crown. "I'm disappointed for them."
The history books will say that Orb lost the Preakness to Oxbow and the Hall of Fame combination of trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens.
More likely, Orb lost the Preakness on Wednesday by the luck of the draw when he drew the No. 1 post position.
Just once since 1961 has the winner of the Preakness come from the post position nearest the rail. That was in 1994 and Tabasco Cat, a horse trained by, ironically, D. Wayne Lukas.
And in fact, when it was over Saturday, after Orb had found a bit of trouble — "Joel said he just wasn't comfortable in there," said McGaughey, quoting jockey Joel Rosario — McGaughey was asked if drawing the inside post ended up being more of a factor than was first thought.
"When I look at it now, I think it probably did hurt us," the trainer answered. "We couldn't get him (outside). I think he probably would rather have had a little more clear shot than he had."
Indeed, in his previous races, Orb loved to come from both outside and off a fast pace. He got neither on Saturday.
At the Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice ran off with the lead in blistering fractions to set up the winner's late run. Orb wasn't so lucky in the Preakness. Oxbow got the lead and cruised along at a modest pace.
"I knew where Oxbow was going to go (to the lead). I thought the other horses would go with him," McGaughey said. "But we were still within just 5 or 6 lengths of him. It just didn't happen."
McGaughey thought it would happen. He believed it would happen. He called Orb's work on Monday at Belmont Park "magnificent." He said all week the horse was training well. There were no problems Saturday in the post parade or in the gate.
"I was a little surprised. I thought he'd run his race today," McGaughey said. "I don't really know why he didn't run better except that he was sort of cramped down on the inside the whole way.
"I saw Joel kind of go around the turn and try to ease him out, but obviously he never could get him there.
"Then when he started making that run I thought, 'Well, he must be a little more comfortable down in there than he looks to me.' But obviously he wasn't."
There are more than 35 reasons there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in 35 years.
"There was more pressure, not because he was 3-5 but because there were so many people hoping," McGaughey said. "I felt like that we had a lot of people behind us. So I'm disappointed in that respect. I did feel the pressure a little bit more today, just because of that."
In fact, McGaughey admitted he allowed himself to think ahead a little.
"I tried to focus on today the whole time," he said, "but I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I said I didn't think down the line a little bit. I thought if we could get it done today we'd go back to Belmont and really be comfortable there and really have a big chance."
Orb might run in the Belmont, but his chance at the Triple Crown was gone — gone at least in part by the bad luck of Wednesday's draw.
"I don't know if it was bad luck; we just got beat," said McGaughey, classy to the end. "Oxbow ran a great race as did the other two horses who finished in front of him."
Two weeks ago, 62-year-old Shug McGaughey was on top of the world after finally winning the Kentucky Derby.
Now, he made the walk of disappointment. Such is the Triple Crown.
"I know the game," he said when someone asked about the ups and the downs. "I've been at it a long time."
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