Orb's success has been a team effort
Earl “Buzzy” Tenney, the longtime assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey, watched the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago from his Long Island home surrounded by family and friends.
Tenney, 61, admitted that a lot of people started “jumping around like kids” when Orb passed Normandy Invasion and splashed to a 2 1/2-length victory, giving McGaughey his long-awaited first Derby.
It also was the first Derby for Tenney and a host of other longtime employees – and some not so-longtime employees – in a stable that prides itself on consistency and longevity.
“After the initial feeling of winning you think this is something you’ve always wanted to be a part of – be it big or small,” Tenney said recently. “It’s something you can scratch off your bucket list now. I think for Shug and the Phippses and Stuart Janney there are more races to win, but this put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for me.
“What happened the last four or five weeks, everything worked out perfect, but to me it’s a culmination of 28 years of Shug being here, training these families all through the time [and] finally having the right horse on the right day.”
It’s also about having the right people around the right horse. Orb’s metamorphosis from immature 2-year-old to Kentucky Derby winner can be attributed, in large part, to the work of two assistant trainers, four exercise riders, and a groom.
In Tenney and Medina Shug trusts
Tenney is a life-long friend of McGaughey’s going back to their days as Cub Scouts in Lexington, Ky. They played competitive golf with and against each other and have basically been in the horse business the majority of their adult lives.
Tenney worked for Claiborne Farm – rubbing horses, selling yearlings, and foaling mares – and then spent 4 1/2 years as an assistant to trainer Steve Penrod before joining McGaughey when he took the Phipps job in the fall of 1985.
“Whether it’s in the barn or out of the barn, if I say we’re going to school [a horse] today, that’s all I got to say and he knows how I want it done,” McGaughey said. “That makes it comfortable for me.”
Tenney said he has had the opportunity to go out on his own, but he and his family have been comfortable with their lifestyle.
“When everything to me is going well, I’m not one to jump up and make a change,” Tenney said. “My family and my children were doing very well. They seemed very settled. I just didn’t want to take a chance on disrupting everything.”
Plus, Tenney said, with the stock McGaughey would get annually “you get the opportunity to get the right one.”
Robbie Medina is only 39, but he has been with McGaughey since 1996, starting as a groom and advancing to barn foreman to assistant trainer. A native of Chicago, Medina worked for trainer Lou Goldfine there before coming to New York where he worked one year for Angel Penna Jr.
Since 2001, Medina splits his time at Payson Park and Saratoga, and mostly communicates with McGaughey by phone.
“If I call him up and say we have a 2-year-old that’s pretty nice or I say ‘Shug, this one’s ready to run,’ there are no questions,” Medina said. “He’ll say ‘OK, ship him on down, we’ll run him in the first available race.’ It’s always been that way.”
McGaughey has a lot of faith in Medina and sees him as only getting “better and better and better” as a horseman.
“Not many people get as lucky as I did,” Medina said. “For Shug to trust me and Jenn with that kind of horse, leading up to that kind of race, it’s pretty cool and says a lot about Shug.”
String of exercise riders
Jenn, is Jennifer Patterson, who has been Orb’s regular exercise rider since early in his 3-year-old year. Patterson, 32, joined McGaughey’s staff in the spring of 2007 and has been entrusted with many of the stable’s best horses, including the multiple-Grade 1-winning turf horse Point of Entry.
Patterson, a native of Wilmington, Del., who studied business management at Gettysburg College, eschewed working for her aunt and uncle’s catering business for a life on the track. She worked for steeplechase trainers Ricky Hendricks and Kathy McKenna before spending one winter for Eoin Harty in south Florida.
When Harty migrated west, Patterson hooked up with the McGaughey stable.
Patterson became Orb’s regular rider when the horse was shipped to Payson Park following a workout at Gulfstream on Christmas Eve. McGaughey said Orb “wasn’t quite right” coming out of that work. Believing the track was stinging Orb, McGaughey shipped him to Payson Park for the winter. At first, Patterson would go only to Payson to work the colt. Following the Florida Derby, she has been the only one on the colt.
“Without her, we wouldn’t be here,” McGaughey said. “Not only her riding ability and horsemanship, but her dedication and the whole thing.”
One thing McGaughey likes about Patterson is that she’s not bashful about giving her opinion, positive or negative.
“For some reason, I can really understand what she’s talking about,” McGaughey said. “She’s not afraid. Sometimes they’re a little bit hesitant to tell me too much, but she kicks back at me.”
Said Patterson: “I don’t hold back. I think communication is key. I will say what I feel whether he agrees with it or not. I will be honest.”
While Patterson became Orb’s work rider, Mark Phillips was the daily exercise rider of Orb from January to mid-March before he returned home to his native Ireland for a vacation.
Phillips, 27, is a former jockey who rode in Ireland and Australia before coming to the United States. He rode some at Suffolk Downs before he began struggling with weight.
All of Orb’s exercise riders said the colt was timid at first.
“Sometimes he wouldn’t be carrying on, so the whole time when I was riding him down there I’d have him traveling behind another horse just to get him a little bit aggressive,” Phillips said. “Then he’d start galloping good.”
Lena Lorieul, 50, has worked for the Phipps Stable since 1984. She got on Orb last summer at Saratoga before she broke her ankle in late July.
Lorieul recalled one morning when she worked Orb in company out of the gate with a couple of other 2-year-olds.
“I’m sitting, waiting on the others, the others came up and they started going by me and he didn’t do anything,” Lorieul said. “I shook the reins at him and, oh my God, he took off. I was in the middle of the racetrack, I was wide on the turn, and went by them. When I pulled up, the clockers in Saratoga called Shug: ‘Who was that?’ ”
Lorieul, whose husband, Christophe, is the assistant to trainer Christophe Clement, also worked Orb on the turf. She said she told McGaughey, “The grass work was very good; the dirt work was special.”
When Lorieul got hurt, Cecil Putnam became Orb’s regular exercise rider. Putnam, 55, joined McGaughey’s New York division in the fall of 1988 after working with the Phipps second string in Kentucky with Jimmy Baker. Putnam counts Dancing Spree and Boisterous among her personal favorites.
Putnam, like Phillips, recalled Orb as being intimidated on the track, but “he always showed a lot of ability,” Putnam said.
“To be honest with you, every time he ran, he did learn,” Putnam said.
Putnam was last aboard Orb when he worked three furlongs at Gulfstream on Christmas Eve, and she could tell that Orb didn’t like the track.
“Sometimes Gulfstream’s a little hard,” she said.
Orb’s groom: 'It’s the horse'
Enrique Martinez, 38, is the groom for Orb and takes care of the colt daily. He has worked for McGaughey for 2 1/2 years after spending several years with Bill Mott, for whom he groomed graded stakes winners Courageous Cat and Mr. Sidney.
“The horse has a big heart, he’s strong,” Martinez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, said of Orb. “The horse does everything. It’s not me, it’s the horse.”