Kentucky Derby

John Clay: Orb's win proves 'old way' can be the right way

Co-owner Stuart Janney, left, congratulated winning trainer Shug McGaughey in the winner's circle after the Kentucky Derby. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Co-owner Stuart Janney, left, congratulated winning trainer Shug McGaughey in the winner's circle after the Kentucky Derby. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — It would be incorrect to say Orb's victory in the 139th Kentucky Derby was a nod to the old way of doing things.

If you think that, then Dinny Phipps, 72, has a message for you.

No sooner had trainer Shug McGaughey been asked in the post-race news conference about the "old-school way" than the head of the legendary Phipps Stable jumped in to make an important point.

"Can I answer that question instead of Shug?" Phipps asked. "He does it the right way."

What exactly is the "right way"?

"Take your time," Phipps answered. "Let the horse bring you to the race."

See, this Kentucky Derby wasn't all about the great story of McGaughey, the Hall of Fame trainer, exorcising the demons of 1989, when favorite Easy Goer lost to Sunday Silence in the Derby.

"What's going to change is, I'm not going to have to worry about it anymore," McGaughey said after the race.

This Kentucky Derby wasn't all about the great story of Phipps and co-owner Stuart Janney, two longstanding and distinguished names in the sport, winning their first Kentucky Derby.

In a microwave world, this was about people taking the time to do things right.

In a sport where owners and trainers seem to want to do anything to get their horse to the Kentucky Derby, these were connections who let the Derby come to them.

"I've just never had the horse," McGaughey said this week of that long empty stretch from Easy Goer until now.

At a time when multiple trainers make entering multiple horses an annual Derby event, McGaughey had entered just one horse since Easy Goer — Saarland, who finished 10th in the 2002 Derby — in the big race on the first Saturday in May.

At a time when owners have been known to switch trainers after one poor performance, Phipps and Janney have stuck with McGaughey as their trainer for more than two decades.

"I've been lucky enough to have owners who have been patient with me," McGaughey said.

At a time when loyalty seems old-fashioned, Phipps and Janney have stayed with the legendary Claiborne Farm, where Orb was foaled.

In fact, Phipps told the story Saturday of how he wanted to sell Orb's mare, Lady Liberty, only to be talked out of it by Janney and Seth Hancock, the owner of Claiborne Farm.

"And with Orb, it was pretty clear you had by far the best-looking offspring from this particular mare," Janney said. "That didn't mean that we'd be sitting here, but at least it was a step in the right direction."

With McGaughey, the steps would be slow and sure.

"That's the way — kind of the way I learned, and through mentors and through watching and learning myself," McGaughey said. "And I'm lucky I've got people that are patient with me and don't try to, for lack of a better word, interfere."

It wasn't until Orb's Florida Derby win that McGaughey said he allowed himself to get excited.

And you might not think of Shug McGaughey as one who gets overly excited, but all week he just seemed relaxed and enjoying the moment, traits emblematic of his confidence and, yes, hope.

He had a lot of people hoping right along with him. Along the backside this past week, there were plenty of people who said that if their horse couldn't win the Derby, they hoped Shug's horse could.

"That meant a lot to me," McGaughey said.

Good things come to those who wait.

"There's always another race," McGaughey said Saturday, explaining part of his philosophy. "There's always another race down the road."

There is not a race like the Kentucky Derby, however.

And this Derby wasn't won by the "old way" of doing things.

It was won by people who think the old way is the right way.

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