01/08/2014 12:00AM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Orb

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

There are times when horse racing can produce maddening, inexplicable results, waved away with a shrug and a common refrain, “That’s horse racing.”

Then there are times when everything comes together as if preordained. The best jockey, on the best horse, prepared by the best trainer, and bred by a family that has been competing at the top of racing for generations wins the Kentucky Derby.

That, too, is horse racing.

So it was on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, at the 139th Derby, when Orb brought trainer Shug McGaughey, the nation’s leading rider, Joel Rosario, and the families of Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps and Stuart Janney III their first Derby victory.

The Derby win was the fifth straight for Orb, four of those coming in 2013, with victories in Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby preceding his run for the roses.

Orb failed to win another race after the Derby and was retired to stud duty at year’s end, but he was unquestionably the best horse of his generation the first half of the year. His brilliance was not forgotten by Eclipse Award voters, who made Orb one of the finalists for champion 3-year-old male.

Orb, a colt by Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, was bred in Kentucky by Phipps and Janney. Though he took four starts to finally win a maiden race at age 2, Orb thrived in Florida during the winter, where he won three straight races at Gulfstream Park.

His campaign began with an allowance victory Jan. 26, and Orb followed that up by running down Violence, the CashCall Futurity winner, in the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23. Orb then completed his ascension during the Derby prep season with a 2 3/4-length victory in the Florida Derby.

After arriving at Churchill Downs, Orb continued to progress. His final work for the Derby, five days out, was spectacular. There was no doubt he deserved to be the favorite.

“At the beginning of the year, I had no idea I’d be standing here, none whatsoever,” McGaughey said a few days before the Derby at his barn at Churchill Downs. “He’s taken us so much farther than I thought he would. He’s done it. Orb brought us here.”

Orb then went out and ran like he trained. He rallied from 16th in the 19-horse field and rolled to a 2 1/2-length victory.

“I always dreamed of this day,” said McGaughey, 62, who has been in the employ of the Phipps family for nearly 30 years.

“He does it the right way,” Phipps said of McGaughey. “He takes his time. He lets the horse bring you to the race.”

Orb made such a strong impression at the Derby that there were many who thought he could end the drought of Triple Crown winners that has existed since 1978, when Affirmed last swept the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. But the Triple Crown remained elusive again. Orb was sent off the odds-on favorite in the Preakness, but never really fired and finished fourth. In the Belmont, he rallied steadily and finished third.

McGaughey then gave Orb a freshening at Fair Hill in Maryland and brought him into the Grade 1 Travers off an 11-week layoff. Orb ran well, finishing third, beaten less than a length by Will Take Charge.

Five weeks later, Orb took on older horses for the first and, it turned out, only time in his career, in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. After being prominent early, he steadily retreated and finished last of eight. It was his final start.

Orb was subsequently retired. He will begin stud duty at Claiborne Farm, where he was born.