BALTIMORE — Stuart Janney III’s family missed owning Triple Crown champion Secretariat in a coin flip, and lost a Kentucky Derby winner by selling a broodmare before she gave birth.
Now the chairman of Bessemer Group Inc. finally has a contender in Orb, the 3-year-old Derby winner with five straight victories going into the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on Saturday. The colt is the even-money early favorite to win.
Janney, 64, his cousin and co-owner Odgen Mills “Dinny” Phipps and trainer Shug McGaughey wait for their horses to prove they are fit for the Triple Crown races. Janney has said he believes many race horses are still too immature when the races are held early in their third year.
“He didn’t like to force them into these races when they weren’t ready,” McGaughey, 62, said during an interview at the Preakness barn that houses the contenders at Pimlico. “What’s been special is how he matured physically and mentally during the winter. It’s astonishing. I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years I’ve been doing this and all the horses I’ve been around.”
Orb was the first Derby entry for Janney, who never got the chance to realize Secretariat was ready for the biggest event in thoroughbred horse racing.
The coin flip in 1969 was between Penny Chenery of Meadow Stables and Janney’s uncle, Ogden Phipps of Wheatley Stable, which at the time owned 1957 Derby third-place finisher and Preakness winner Bold Ruler, according to the Journal of Kentucky History and Genealogy. The two went to the office of New York Racing Association Chairman Alfred Vanderbilt II, where Phipps won the flip to select the Bold Ruler foal of his choice.
Phipps had pick of Somethingroyal’s weanling filly, Hasty Matelda’s colt or Somethingroyal’s unborn foal. He picked the filly. Chenery got the other two, including the unborn foal who would run under the name of Secretariat and win the Triple Crown in 1973. The filly, The Bride, ran in four races without earning any money.
Two years after Secretariat’s run, Janney’s parents put their champion filly Ruffian up against Derby winner Foolish Pleasure in a match race. Ruffian, undefeated in 10 starts against other fillies, broke down after a half-mile and was euthanized the following day when her broken ankle couldn’t be repaired.
Janney and Phipps had another Derby miss when they sold Supercharger, who was in foal with Super Saver, the 2010 winner, to WinStar Farm for $160,000.
Phipps, 72, almost did it again when he recommended that Liberty Lady be sold. After all, she hadn’t produced any great runners. Janney convinced him to breed her with Malibu Moon, the son of A.P. Indy. The result was Orb.
Orb won the Derby by 2½ lengths, the colt’s fifth straight victory since Nov. 24. Orb won the Fountain of Youth by one-half length on Feb. 13 and the Florida Derby by 2¾ lengths on March 30, both at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
“I’ve never seen a horse develop over the winter like he did,” said McGaughey. “I’ve never had a horse that broke his maiden on Nov. 24 and matured and developed the way his horse did – never. He did it all on his own. He convinced us he was ready when he won the Florida Derby. He took us there.”
After the Derby, jockey Gary Stevens who came out of a seven-year retirement to return to racing, said Orb was to be feared by the contenders. Stevens is riding D. Wayne Lukas’ Oxbow, who ran sixth in Kentucky and was given 15-1 odds.
“What I’ve got to hope is that Orb doesn’t show up the same horse that did for the Derby and that he may have some traffic problems, because I’m going to be flat honest with you, we’re all up against it,” Stevens, a two-time Preakness winner, said during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association press conference.
Orb came from near the back of the 19-horse Derby field and ran past the competition six horses wide before crossing the finish line 2½ lengths ahead of Golden Soul.
“I liked what I saw in the winner, and I think that we’re seeing a colt that really has untapped resources right now,” Stevens said. “I think he’s still improving, and that’s kind of a scary thought.”
Trainer Al Stall, whose entry Departing was given 6-1 odds, said the “derby form” forecasts that Orb will become the 34th horse to win the Derby and the Preakness. Eleven of those horses went on to win the Triple Crown, with Affirmed being the most recent in 1978.
“If the horse doesn’t have a hiccup between the Derby and the Preakness, the Derby winner usually comes back and runs a pretty powerful race in two weeks time,” Stall said during an NTRA press conference. “It’s been proven over time that that will happen.”
McGaughey said the stable has plenty of prospects back in Florida who could follow Orb’s success.
“This has been a dream of a lifetime for me as much as we have enjoyed him and getting to Kentucky the way we did,” McGaughey said. “I always dreamed of the Derby, but I always wanted the horse to take me there.”