Sunday, May 5, 2013

At long last, Kentucky Derby glory for a premier racing family and Hall of Fame trainer

On Wednesday, I posted photos of some Kentucky Derby winners I’ve had the chance to visit. In the captions for the photos of Thunder Gulch (1995) and Smarty Jones (2004), I commented that their Derby wins were some of my favorites. We can now add Orb’s 2013 win to that list.

Not since Smarty Jones has a Kentucky Derby win felt so “right”. Each Derby finish since 2004 has been something of a surprise. Some wins were surprising yet deserving (Barbaro, 2006 and Animal Kingdom, 2011) while others were complete shockers (Giacomo, 2005; Mine That Bird, 2009; Super Saver, 2010), with the rest falling in the middle somewhere. Orb’s win yesterday not only fits neatly into that narrow slot of “just right”, but also marks the end of one of the longest waits in American Thoroughbred racing.

Before 2013, the Phipps and Janney families had never won a Kentucky Derby, despite family patriarch Ogden Mills planting the seeds leading to the production of fine Thoroughbred bloodlines over a century ago.  These bloodlines, carefully maintained and supplemented through the generations, produced an endless parade of champion homebreds. The Phipps and Janney families bred to race, and as the old bloodstock families of the early to mid-20th century disappeared, their fine horses dispersed at sales, it became the new normal to breed to sell. But the Phipps and Janney families clung to that now old-fashioned breed-to-race ideal, sending forth their horses to starting gates, not sales pavilions.

As a result, they were blessed with several homebred champions over the years, including Bold Ruler, Buckpasser, Ruffian, Personal Ensign, and Easy Goer. The latter two were trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey.

McGaughey was invited to train the stables of Phipps and Janney in 1986. Although he enjoyed early success with Personal Ensign and Easy Goer, he was never one to steer his horses towards races they weren’t ready for, particularly the Kentucky Derby. Unlike several modern big-name trainers, in his time with the Phipps and Janney stables, McGaughey has only entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby.

Yesterday, one lifetime and several generations of patience came together for McGaughey and the Phipps/Janney families when Orb granted them their first blanket of roses.  As thrilled as I was to see Ruffian’s colors winning the Kentucky Derby, knowing that her blood flowed through the veins of Orb through his fourth dam, Laughter—Ruffian’s ¾ sister—the best part of the Derby was seeing the stunned silence of Shug McGaughey shortly after Orb’s win, which spoke volumes about the man.

Indeed, the best and most deserving horse won yesterday, and it is glorious. On to Pimlico!

You may read an excellent article on what the win means for Shug McGaughey here, and Blood-Horse coverage of the win here.

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