05/04/2013 9:31PM

Kentucky Derby: Orb storms home to win as the 5-1 favorite

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There are times when horse racing can produce maddening, inexplicable results, waved away with a shrug and a common refrain, “That’s horse racing.”

Then there are times when everything comes together as if pre-ordained. The best jockey, on the best horse, prepared by the best trainer, bred by a family that has been competing at the top of racing for generations, wins the Kentucky Derby.

Barbara D. Livingston
Under the twin spires of Churchill Downs, Orb wins the 139th Kentucky Derby.

That, too, is horse racing.

So it was Saturday at Churchill Downs, at the 139th Kentucky Derby, when Orb brought trainer Shug McGaughey, the nation’s leading rider, Joel Rosario; and the families of Ogden Phipps and Stuart Janney III their first Derby victory with a convincing, 2 1/2-length win.

Orb ($12.80) went off the tepid favorite, the product of coming into the Derby with a four-race win streak and the positive impression he made all week here at Churchill Downs, including a sharp final workout Monday. Then he went out and ran like he trained.

[DRF LIVE AT THE KENTUCKY DERBY: News updates, photos, videos]

Over a track rated sloppy after extensive rain earlier in the day, Orb completed 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.89. The pace was surprisingly fast early – a half-mile in 45.33 seconds, six furlongs in 1:09.80 – and resulted in horses who were well back early sweeping the first three spots.

Orb was 16th of 19 during the early going. Golden Soul, a 34-1 shot, rallied from 15th to be second, one length in front of 6-1 second choice Revolutionary, who was 17th early but finished well enough along the inside to beat Normandy Invasion by a head for third.

Mylute was fifth and was followed, in order, by Oxbow, 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.

Revolutionary was the best of trainer Todd Pletcher’s five runners. Besides his third-place finish, Pletcher’s runners were ninth, 11th, 12th, and 14th. He has now won once with 36 starters in 13 Derbies.

[Results chart for 139th Kentucky Derby]

The victory was particularly satisfying for McGaughey, a Hall of Famer who is widely respected for the all the success he has had in the sport, and who – like the late Charlie Whittingham – only shows up at the Derby when he has a shot. He understands the demands it places on horses, and neither he nor his owners ever put their own self-interests ahead of their horses.

“I always dreamed of this day,” said McGaughey, who said he hadn’t even thought of coming to the Derby with Orb until he won the Florida Derby in his last start five weeks earlier.

“If you force a horse into a race, usually it ends up being a big mistake,” he said.

His approach is shared by Phipps and Janney, the co-owners of Orb, for whom McGaughey trains privately.

“He does it the right way,” Phipps said. “He takes his time. He lets the horse bring you to the race.”

Orb earned Janney and Phipps a first prize of $1,414,800 from a total race purse of $2,174,800. Janney and Phipps also bred Orb, a colt by Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled mare Lady Liberty.

A crowd of 151,616, the ninth-largest in history, stuffed itself into Churchill Downs on Saturday. Derby Day dawned cloudy, then the predicted rain moved in shortly after 10 a.m. and steadily soaked Churchill Downs for about seven hours. The rain stopped about 90 minutes before the Derby was run. The track was rated fast for the opener at 10:30 a.m., but was downgraded to sloppy midway through the day and remained rated sloppy through the Derby. This marked the fourth time in the last five years that the Derby was run on an off track.

A field of 19 – one short of the maximum that can run – went to the post after 21 horses were entered Wednesday. Fear the Kitten, the also-eligible, was withdrawn at scratch time Friday morning, and then two hours later, Black Onyx was scratched because of a chip in his left front ankle.

Considering the size of the field and the wet conditions, the race was surprisingly cleanly run, owing to a rapid pace that spread the field out and prevented a traffic jam heading into the first turn. Palace Malice, in blinkers for the first time, rocketed out of the gate and sprinted to a 3 1/2-length lead through that rapid first half-mile and six furlongs, with Oxbow and Verrazano closest.

Orb, starting from post 16, got a gorgeous trip from Rosario, who let the bulk of the field clear him, then dropped behind 15 rivals and saved a decent amount of ground on the first turn by getting to a path about three widths from the rail.

“I thought Joel did a great job getting position going around the first turn,” McGaughey said.

Rosario kept Orb in the middle of the track down the backstretch, befitting a rider who was confident he was on the best horse and did not want to risk getting him stopped.

As the field went around the far turn, Orb began an extended, powerful rally outside rivals and went from one of the trailers at the three-furlong pole to a looming threat at the three-sixteenths pole.

Once straightened away, Orb took aim on Normandy Invasion, who briefly hit the front approaching the quarter pole. McGaughey thought Orb eased up a bit once he hit the front with less than a furlong remaining, but Rosario is a powerful finisher, and he was not going to let Orb dawdle.

“I got a little antsy, but he did go on and finish,” McGaughey said.

Orb will move on to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 18, and try to keep hopes alive of being the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. He would need to add the Preakness as well as the Belmont Stakes on June 8 to join 11 other 3-year-olds who have won all three legs of the Triple Crown. The 35-year drought is the longest since Sir Barton first won the Triple Crown in 1919.

Orb was scheduled to head to New York – where McGaughey is based from spring to fall – on Sunday morning and be prepared for the Preakness.

“He has been coming out of his races good,” McGaughey said. “I’ve actually been surprised how well he has come out of his races. If everything’s right, I can’t wait to get there and do it again.”