“That's not Shuggy,” said his wife.
He's happy with his 40 or so horses and a staff that knows exactly how he wants everything done, from the preparation of a stall to the training schedule leading to a stakes race.
“It says a lot that so many of his workers have been with him 15 or 20 years,” said Jennifer Patterson, Orb's exercise rider. “Everything is so consistent. We always say that if you make it a year with Shug, you'll become a lifer.”
As the week of a big race unfolds, McGaughey is apt to grow quieter, his concentration on the work ahead deepening.
But he doesn't mind saying that this trip to Pimlico Race Course feels a little sweeter than his 1989 visit with Easy Goer. For one thing, Orb has exceeded his expectations more relentlessly than any other horse. But age has also brought perspective on how hard it is to win even one Triple Crown race.
“I always used to say that I wished I had won the Derby when I was young so I wouldn't have to worry about it,” he said. “But I don't know if that's true anymore. Having to wait 30-odd years has probably given me more appreciation of it than I would've had before.”
Rosario a smart, calm rider
It bothers Ron Anderson, the agent for the jockey who has won the world's two biggest horse races this year, that his client won't take more of the credit.
Joel Rosario defers. His instincts on the track have been compared to those of the best jockeys of all time. But as soon as the race ends, his natural preference for deflecting praise is irrepressible.
“This guy, today, it was all him,” he said while leading Orb to the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
A month prior, Rosario had taken Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Derby winner, to a win in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
“He's a tremendous horse,” he said. “I let him do his thing, whatever he wanted to do.”
There is little debate, though, that Rosario is the world's hottest rider — and has, this spring, become known not for just natural talent and earned strength but the calmness and smarts to get his horse where it needs to be. Putting it that was seems to mitigate the job of a jockey. It doesn't.
“That's simply what matters most,” Orb trainer Shug McGaughey said. “Figuring out where they need to be and getting ‘em there, that's it — and it's very hard. Joel does it.”
Rosario hasn't been perfect. In Animal Kingdom's prep for Dubai, he moved early and ended up getting beaten by Point of Entry, a horse owned by Orb co-owner Dinny Phipps and trained by McGaughey.
Rosario grew up riding horses but not dreaming of doing so for a living. Like most boys in the Dominican Republic, his dream — and possible way out — was baseball. He played every day, all day, in highly regimented workouts with dozens of others. Family members — he is one of 13 kids — eventually pulled him aside and told him he was unlikely to develop the size to ever move on as a baseball player. They took him to jockey school, where he proved to be a natural. He needed only six months of training before starting his racing career at age 14.
The 28-year-old won his first race in July 2000, and was top rider in the Dominican Republic — which has one track — four times before moving to the United States in 2006.
He landed in California, eventually settling into a brash jockey colony full of big personalities who have a penchant for going fast early and hoping it works.
That, Rosario could do. His mounts earned $8 million in 2008, then $13 million the next year. He hasn't made less than $15 million since and dominated racing at Southern California's three tracks.
Last year, having never won a Triple Crown race, he headed East to ride in New York and Florida.
“I tell everyone this – and I know our sport's not exactly the bastion of truth all the time, but I mean it,” said Anderson. “Joel is the nicest kid in the world. He wants to do nothing but give credit to everyone else.”