He had speed and endurance in his pedigree, but if you had polled his owners and his trainer a year ago, none would have predicted that he’d gallop in the same steps as his great-grandsire, 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
But where other colts might level off or become erratic, Orb seemed to get better every day.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said his trainer, Claude “Shug” McGaughey, who has been in the thoroughbred game more than 40 years. “His development since Jan. 1 has amazed me.”
McGaughey stood just outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course, where minutes earlier, Orb had entered stall 40, the space traditionally reserved for the Kentucky Derby champion.
The bay colt’s performance at a muddy Churchill Downs, where he charged from well off the pace to win decisively, has the wider sports world dreaming of a Triple Crown winner.
But for the more intimate circle of people around Orb, the victory paid off lifetimes worth of patience and devotion to the sport.
Owners Ogden “Dinny” Phipps and Stuart Janney III hail from one of the last family dynasties in American racing. They had never won a Kentucky Derby.
McGaughey, a Kentucky native, has stood among the game’s most respected trainers for decades. In six tries, he had never won the Derby.
Joel Rosario has ranked among the winningest jockeys in the country for five years. But he had never won a Triple Crown race and was a stranger to the casual sports fan.
For each of these connections, Orb created a richer legacy with his performance in Louisville. And if he can win the Preakness on Saturday, the world around him will become that much more luminous.
Family rich in history of racing
The patriarch of the Phipps family, Henry Phipps, earned his fortune in a different America, one dominated by barons of industry. The son of an English cobbler, he had the good sense to invest in a steel company with his childhood friend and neighbor, Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie Steel Co. made both Pittsburgh boys rich beyond all imagining.
Henry Phipps' daughter-in-law, Gladys Mills, kindled the family interest in thoroughbred racing, founding a stable in 1926 and saddling her first Kentucky Derby entrant in 1928. Her son, Ogden, carried on the legacy as did his sister, Barbara, and her husband, Stuart Janney Jr.
Cousins Dinny Phipps and Stuart Janney III, who lives in Butler, are the current keepers of the flame.
“They are really the only family left that dates back to the glory days of American racing,” said NBC horse racing analyst Randy Moss.
The family's history with racing is full of tragedy and triumph, good luck and bad.
Among the great horses produced by the Phipps stable was Bold Ruler, a brilliantly fast sprinter who won the 1957 Preakness and sired a line of champions led by Secretariat.