LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Orb was so far behind a wall of horses at the Kentucky Derby that even his jockey wasn't sure he could master the muddy track and make a run for the roses.
"I was really far back," Joel Rosario said. "I said hopefully he can go faster than that. I was saying maybe I was too far back, but it was so easy."
The bay colt made it look that way Saturday, splashing through the slop created by a day of rain to win by 2½ lengths and giving Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey his first win in the race.
Golden Soul was second, with Revolutionary, ridden by three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel, third. Normandy Invasion faded to fourth.
Orb, the 5-1 favorite, broke from the No. 16 post and bided his time near the back of the pack early while Palace Malice set a blistering pace in the muck.
Orb was idling in 16th a half-mile into the race. On the turn for home, Rosario moved him past 11 horses into striking position in the middle of the track. With a quarter-mile to go, Orb began picking off the leaders.
The only question left was whether he could sustain his momentum on a surface that resembled creamy peanut butter.
"He was very relaxed. It's exactly what I wanted," Rosario said.
When the field turned for home on a cool, overcast afternoon at Churchill Downs, Normandy Invasion had the lead. But Orb was gearing up and prevailed in the deep stretch, carrying Rosario to his first Derby win.
"Perfect trip," Rosario said. "I stayed on the outside. I don't want to be too wide on the first turn. I was hoping somebody in the middle (of the race) didn't push me wide."
Orb ran the 1¼ miles in 2:02.89.
McGaughey, 62, said the victory meant everything to him.
"I'm thrilled to death for (the owners), thrilled to death for the people who put so much time into this horse, and of course, I'm thrilled to death for me," he said.
The moments before the race included a seven-figure avalanche of betting on Orb, who had won four straight races going in, including the Florida Derby on March 16 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. According to live odds on the Kentucky Derby website, more than $4.7 million was wagered on Orb of $36.6 million gambled on the race, making the horse a 5-1 favorite as betting closed.
Orb is owned by Ogden Mills Phipps and Stuart Janney III, who are first cousins and prominent members of the Phipps racing empire.
Six generations of the family have been involved in the sport — Janney's parents bred and raced the filly Ruffian — and before Saturday they had gathered victories in all the biggest races except the Kentucky Derby. Easy Goer finished second for the Phippses and McGaughey behind Sunday Silence in 1989.
"This is a time to reflect on our terrific trainer," Janney said. "I certainly hoped it would be his time, and it was."
Phipps, who is known as "Dinny," quickly chimed in, "Well, he's right about that."
Rosario is the hottest rider in the sport. He won the world's richest race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, on March 30 aboard 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom. He won three stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar this season: the Grade III $150,000 Endeavour and the Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough on 5-year-old Old Tune, and the Grade III $150,000 Florida Oaks on Tapicat.
He closed the recent Keeneland meet with 38 victories in 106 starts, a spring session record. And on opening night at Churchill Downs, he won five races, including the prep race, the Derby Trial.
In all, Rosario has won 128 of 514 starts this year (25 percent) with 83 second-place runs and 80 show finishes.
"To win the Dubai World Cup and the Derby, it is like living a dream," he said. "I feel awesome, and this guy (Orb) today, it was all him. I was so far behind. I let him be calm and relaxed."
Trainer Todd Pletcher had a record-tying five entrants in the race. Revolutionary was the best of the "Todd Squad," followed by Charming Kitten (ninth), Overanalyze (11th), Palace Malice (12th) and Verrazano (14th).
Rosie Napravnik for the second time was trying to become the first female jockey to win. She finished fifth aboard Mylute, the highest finish by a female rider. She also had the previous high finish, ninth in 2011.