Chalk one up for the old guard; in fact, one of the oldest guards in all of horse racing, the Phipps family.
The victory by Orb in the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs is one of those reminders that sometimes, whatever is newfangled isn't the best way to get things done.
Although this gets said every year, racing fans should take a very serious look at this colt as a viable threat to win the Triple Crown.
Why? Because he was brought along the right way. In the world of owners-breeders Ogden "Dinny" Phipps and his first cousin, Stuart Janney, and trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey, the objective is never to get a horse to the Kentucky Derby; it's to develop a great racehorse.
There is a huge difference. There are trainers like Todd Pletcher, who had five entrants (26 percent of the field in the race), D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito and others who are hired by owners specifically to get them to the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May.
In the world of Phipps, Janney and McGaughey, there is no expectation, only desire and discipline.
At the post-race press conference, I asked the three if this represents a victory for a certain way of doing things, something old school.
Phipps said, "Can I answer that?"
"Take your time," Phipps said. "Let the horse bring you to the race."
Few words, but full of meaning.
After Orb won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, one of the important races for three-year-olds in Florida, this past winter, McGaughey still did not commit to shooting for the Kentucky Derby. In fact, he wouldn't even commit to the Florida Derby.
"I don’t know what the next outing will be, but we’ll see and talk to the Phipps and Stuart Janney and see what they want to do and go from there," he said to the Blood-Horse.
Yet Orb won the Florida Derby and then they took the next step, the Kentucky Derby.
In the Kentucky Derby, Orb was farther back than usual. In fact, after six furlongs, he was in 17th place under jockey Joel Rosario. When it came time to move, he made a "bold six-wide move," as the chartcaller wrote on the official chart, and attacked.
One by one, he swept past horses. When he caught fourth-place finisher Normandy Invasion, who had made the lead at the mile marker, Orb imposed his will on him and Normandy Invasion got out of the way before regaining his stride.
Orb had done the same thing to Itsmyluckyday in the Florida Derby, showing himself to be a very dominant alpha horse.
Orb won the Derby by two-and-a-half lengths in a time of 2:02.89.
For a little perspective on the connections of the winner, Janney's parents raced the superlative wonder Ruffian, who broke down in a historic match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.
Phipps, 72, is chairman of the Jockey Club. His great-grandfather, Ogden Mills, raced Thoroughbreds in the 19th century. The Phipps family raced the greats Bold Ruler, the sire of Secretariat; Personal Ensign; Easy Goer and Buckpasser. This is the cream on the top of the sport.
Phipps has campaigned four champions.
They are a bedrock family in the sport, and they stuck by McGaughey, a recognized master who is in the Hall of Fame despite his never having won the Kentucky Derby. Until Orb.
"The Phipps and Janneys have been my whole life for 20-some years," McGaughey said. "They've given me everything I've got, really. I'm really proud to bring a day like this into their lives."
So many trainers push on their two-year-olds to win the rich races for babies. McGaughey didn't get Orb to the winner's circle until his fourth start. He hasn't lost since.
By taking his time, the trainer believes Orb is just getting going.
He became very animated at the post-race press conference when speculating about the future.
"I think there's something there; there's more there," McGaughey said. "I don't think he's bottomed out yet."
If so, woe unto the competitors that show up at Pimlico in two weeks for the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, if that is the case.
Orb has a running style in which he doesn't expend a lot of energy early and then attacks. He runs relentlessly through the lane, and, although far back in the Derby, he doesn't have to be.
If he wins the Preakness, his breeding (his sire is a grandson of the great A.P Indy and his damsire is Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled) suggests he will have little problem negotiating the mile-and-a-half distance of the Belmont Stakes in June.
McGaughey is a Kentucky boy, and he always dreamed of winning the Kentucky Derby. He thought he had a chance in 1989 with the great Easy Goer, but he ran into another great horse that day named Sunday Silence. That race was also on a rainy day, and McGaughey said he got a little deja vu.
Asked if the race changed his life, he said, "The way it's going to change my life is I won't have to worry about it anymore. That worry was always there."
Now, he is on an adventure that could lead to the Triple Crown. He won his first Kentucky Derby the right way, an old-school way, and there may be no looking back.
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