05/08/2013 12:19PM

Dick Jerardi: Jumping off Kentucky Derby winner, but glad to see McGaughey win

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shug McGaughey, with jockey Joel Rosario, says he did not even consider bringing Orb to the Kentucky Derby until after his horse won the Florida Derby.

A week before the Kentucky Derby, I was thinking Goldencents. By the time I got off the plane in Louisville the Tuesday before the Derby, I was thinking Orb.

I thought the likely pace scenario favored Goldencents, but then I read Mike Welsch’s comments on Orb’s Monday workout.

I know what I know. I also know what I don’t know.

Mike’s pre-Derby observations have been invaluable for years. He was absolutely certain of Barbaro and Street Sense among others. If he liked Orb, I was prepared to forget what I thought I knew and go with Orb.

[2013 PREAKNESS STAKES: Latest news, video, and more]

Then, I got off the plane and I could not find a single person who did not love Orb. That got me concerned.

When everybody, including a few who are never right about anything, like the same horse, it starts to get scary. Even terrific horses like Orb can carry only so much weight. I had to keep looking.

By the end of the week, I had convinced myself that Goldencents was going to cruise to the front in moderate fractions. If that was that scenario, I thought he could go all the way.

If, however, it was a contested, hot pace, Orb was clearly the horse.

It was such an interesting betting proposition that somebody who played superfectas could have had it both ways, taking the best speed horse and the best closer on top of as many horses as his bankroll would allow.

Nobody would have needed Goldencents if he had one of those in-race accounts. When they were bunched up after that first quarter in 22.57 seconds, I would have taken any price on Orb.

I would not have taken any price on Palace Malice leading through a half-mile in 45.33 and six furlongs in 1:09.80. I just could not have envisioned that scenario.

The horses that were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 after a quarter-mile finished 12, 17, 19, 14, and 18. The horses that were 16, 15, 17, 12, and 18 after a quarter-mile finished 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

That was not a coincidence.

But I do not think any scenario was going to change the winner.

I first met Shug McGaughey 25 years ago when Personal Ensign was finishing her perfect career and Easy Goer was just starting his great career. I have never heard Shug as quietly confident as he was last week. He absolutely knew Orb was going to run his best race. And he was absolutely right.

And regardless of who picked what horse, who was not happy to see Shug win the Derby?

That the great trainer only came back once after that Easy Goer Derby disappointment says everything about who he is and how he feels about his horses. Shug does not chase. He lets his horses develop at their pace and race where they should when they should.

“I do a lot from watch and feel,’’ McGaughey said after the Derby. "I’m not a vacation guy. I like to be at the barn, and that’s where I’m comfortable…I like to watch the horses train and if I don’t feel like they’re doing things exactly the way I want them to do, then I basically don’t run them.’’

Interesting concept.

“And I also do know that because of the experience that I’ve had in watching, is that sometimes if you force a horse into a race and you make a mistake, it’s a big mistake,’’ McGaughey said.

He said he did not think Kentucky Derby until Orb won the Florida Derby. Can you imagine?

Shug had the Fountain of Youth winner and was not thinking Derby. He was waiting on his horse that he admitted surprised him. The Derby was the farthest thing from his mind when 2013 began.

Now, he has a horse who is 4 for 4 in 2013, all around two turns and all impressive in so many ways.

Orb has won running at no pace. Orb has won running at a moderate pace. And Orb has won running at fast paces.

The common theme is that Orb has won.

Orb got a career-best 104 Beyer in the Derby. His turn run was sensational, passing so many horses so fast I can’t count how many no matter how many times I watch the replay.

And Orb’s stride never wavered in the stretch. He just kept coming, passing four more horses in the final quarter-mile and leaving the other 18 strung out for 50 lengths.

McGaughey said he cannot wait to get to Baltimore to see what Orb is going to do next. Me either.