The Last Ride

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Digging through the notebooks and recorder from May. Been meaning to get to this one since before the Preakness. Shug McGaughey talks about the last time he rode a horse.

I don’t think the guy actually meant it the way it sounded but a reporter asked this question to Shug McGaughey at Pimlico during Preakness Week: “Do you still gallop them?”

I tried not to laugh. McGaughey hesitated, a little, and then passed the buck to Jenn Patterson.

“Me? Oh, no, no, no. That’s her job.”

The questioner – not me – meant to ask what Orb’s daily routine was, as in “Does he normally gallop, and how far?” The Kentucky Derby winner had just walked on this day early in the week before the Preakness. McGaughey got the message and said Orb’s daily routine would be to gallop a mile or so.

Disaster averted, I had to ask the Hall of Fame trainer how long it had been since he’d ridden a horse.

“Nineteen-eighty-three, Keeneland,” he rattled. “The last one. Pony.”

Somehow, I knew it didn’t end prettily.

Aboard the lead pony, McGaughey accompanied two racehorses to the starting gate. Back then, the Lexington track placed white wooden chairs out on the lawn in front of the old clubhouse. The chairs weren’t there on the way to the gate, but were set up nice and neat and orderly in rows by the time McGaughey jogged back toward the frontside to watch his horses finish.

“I’m watching them pull up and that pony spotted those chairs,” McGaughey said. “He went this way. I went that way. Ended up on the ground. He went out the gap by the racing office and all these people were standing there. I ducked back in behind the grandstand to walk back to the barn. I wasn’t going to walk back there and let them see me – but sure enough, here they all come walking down to the barn after I got there. There was no hiding. After that, I said ‘that’s enough for me.’ ”

So, no, he doesn’t gallop them.