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A family affair: Claiborne Farm, prominent clients at forefront of Triple Crown history
Kentucky Derby winner Orb arrived at Pimlico Race Course with his sights set on joining an exclusive fraternity of Triple Crown winners raised at historic Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky.
Regardless of the Preakness outcome, Claiborne, in partnership with some of its most prominent and loyal clients, already has put its stamp on this Triple Crown season, marking yet another successful chapter in the operation’s storied history.
Orb, the latest top runner to emerge from the longstanding business relationship between the Hancocks of Claiborne Farm and the extended Phipps and Janney families, became the 10th Kentucky Derby winner to be foaled and raised at the farm. The Phipps and Janney families board their mares and raise the resulting offspring at Claiborne, with their top stallions typically returning to stand stud at their birthplace.
“It’s very, very special,” Claiborne manager Bradley Purcell said of Orb’s Derby win. “Especially to get one for the Phipps and Janney families that have been very loyal and dedicated families for years.”
After bypassing the Kentucky Derby, Illinois Derby winner Departing was among the new challengers waiting to meet Orb in the Preakness Stakes. The son of Claiborne sire War Front was co-bred and is campaigned by the farm and another prominent client, Adele Dilschneider. Orb and Departing were raised together as weanlings and yearlings, turned out together in the same group from September 2010 to June 2011.
“It’s a very unique situation,” Purcell said. “I wish we could tell you we knew Orb was going to win the Kentucky Derby. He was very handsome at an early age. In the weanling stages, yearling stages, both [Orb and Departing] were very nice horses – solid bone, good size, attractive. They looked like they were athletic, and that’s what we’re going for. You make sure they’re healthy and happy, and you let nature take its course.”
Claiborne has been at the top of the sport for more than a century, a remarkable achievement made possible by family members who have guided the farm as well as from having a strong client base – owners and breeders who have access to top mares and stallions.
The operation is now in the hands of a third generation of the Hancock family, and many of the farm’s employees are second- or third-generation.
“Claiborne is a unique place to work,” said Purcell, who himself was born at the farm and followed his father into the operation. “It’s over 100 years in business, and with the same family. There are many generations of families that work out there. People take a lot of pride in what they do out here.
“It’s like watching your two kids achieve at the highest level,” he added of Orb and Departing. “They both feel like our families and relatives out here.”
Claiborne was founded by Arthur Boyd Hancock Sr., the son of Civil War veteran Capt. Richard Hancock, who bred Thoroughbreds at his Ellerslie Farm in Virginia. A. B. Hancock later set up his operation in Kentucky on acreage originally owned by his wife’s family, the Clays. In the farm’s early years, he imported and syndicated Sir Gallahad III and Blenheim II, the sires of Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Whirlaway.
The farm eventually passed to son A. B. “Bull” Hancock Jr., who expanded the farm and its influence, importing and syndicating leading sires Ambiorix and Nasrullah. The latter sired Bold Ruler, the winner of the 1957 Preakness for Gladys Mills Phipps. He would reign as an eight-time leading sire at Claiborne and was best known for siring the immortal Secretariat.
Other prominent horses bred by Bull Hancock included Round Table, foaled in the same barn on the same night as Bold Ruler and eventually a leading sire in his own right.
Bull Hancock’s sons, Arthur and Seth, both followed him into the Thoroughbred business but would take divergent paths to its pinnacle. Bull Hancock died in 1972, and, following his wishes, an advisory committee – headed by Gladys’s son, Ogden Phipps – convened to choose his successor. Although the older of the two, Arthur admitted to Sports Illustrated that he was, in his younger days, “a freewheelin’, hard-drinkin’, guitar-pickin’, bar-brawlin’, skirt-chasin’ fool.”
The advisory committee thus handed over leadership of Claiborne to Seth, then just 23. The first major piece of business he handled was the syndication of Secretariat for a then-record $6.08 million prior to his 3-year-old debut.
Arthur, who had honed his racing knowledge by working for Eddie Neloy, a former trainer for the Phipps family, later sold his interest in Claiborne, turning his focus to developing Stone Farm, a property in Paris he had originally leased from Bull. Both sons would eventually capture the Kentucky Derby.
Arthur got there first, breeding and racing in partnership Gato Del Sol, the winner of the 1982 edition. Two years later, Swale became the first horse to carry Claiborne’s famed gold silks to victory in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Seattle Slew went on to capture the Belmont Stakes but died suddenly just days later.
Stone Farm captured a second Kentucky Derby in 1989, as its Sunday Silence, owned in partnership, took the Derby and Preakness. Finishing second in both races was archrival Easy Goer, bred and raced by Ogden Phipps. “I guess Mr. Phipps and I have kind of exchanged dreams,” Arthur Hancock told the Chicago Tribune at the time. “I had a dream of running Claiborne, and he kept me from it. He had a dream of winning the Kentucky Derby, and I kept him from it.”
However, Easy Goer got the last laugh that spring, denying Sunday Silence’s Triple Crown bid in the Belmont. Under the leadership of Seth Hancock – along with sisters Dell and Clay – Claiborne stood top sires Mr. Prospector, Nijinsky II, Danzig, and Unbridled and bred sires Nureyev and Forty Niner. The influential farm celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, and the following January, the operation was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing.
“It’s more of a tribute to my grandfather and father,” Seth Hancock told Daily Racing Form at the time. “My grandfather started all this over here in Kentucky, and my dad built it up into what it was, and I’m just trying to keep it going.”
Like the Hancocks, the Phipps and Janney families have succeeded through multiple generations. Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps said he began attending races at Churchill Downs when his grandmother, Gladys Mills Phipps, was campaigning Bold Ruler. Gladys’s son, Ogden Phipps, followed her into the game and bred nine champions, including Buckpasser, Easy Goer, and the unbeaten Personal Ensign. Following in those footsteps, Dinny Phipps has now bred and owned five champions.
Like Dinny Phipps, his cousin, Stuart Janney III, followed his parents, best known for breeding and racing the brilliant but ill-fated Ruffian, into the sport. However, following the deaths of Stuart Jr. and Barbara Janney, their son considered stepping back from racing. It was his uncle, Ogden Phipps, who convinced the younger Janney to remain involved, agreeing to partner with him on his horses. After Ogden Phipps died in 2002, his son, Dinny, continued to campaign horses in partnership with his cousin.
For generations, the Phipps and Janney families have boarded their stock at Claiborne, with prominent runners such as Ruffian and Personal Ensign foaled at the nursery. Following Personal Ensign’s illustrious racing career, she returned to Claiborne as a broodmare, producing multiple Grade 1 winner My Flag (the dam of champion Storm Flag Flying), Grade 1 winners Miner’s Mark and Traditionally, and the Grade 1-placed Our Emblem, the sire of dual classic winner War Emblem.
Orb, the latest classic winner raised by the Hancocks for the Phipps/Janney operation, comes from four consecutive generations of mares bred by the family and sired by Claiborne stallions. Fifth dam Shenanigans, a daughter of Native Dancer who also produced Ruffian, was out of Bold Irish, a mare the family acquired from Bull Hancock.
“For families that have been in it as long as they have, it was very special to see them up in the winner’s circle of the Kentucky Derby,” Purcell said. “They’ve been loyal to Claiborne; they listen to us. We’re very blessed to have clients like that.”
Departing was bred and owned by Claiborne in partnership with another longtime client, Dilschneider. The granddaughter of John Olin, whose homebred Cannonade won the 100th Kentucky Derby, Dilschneider first met Clay Hancock in St. Louis, then began buying mares with Seth’s advice in the 1990s.
In partnership, they campaigned Grade 1 winner Arch, who is now a productive stallion. In Claiborne’s centennial year, Arch’s son Blame, trained by Al Stall Jr. for the partnership, handed Zenyatta the only defeat of her career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame won an Eclipse Award and now stands alongside his sire.
“They’re great people. The horse comes first,” Stall, who trains Departing, said of the Hancocks. “We actually go back a long, long time. When I was a kid, my grandfather and father, they knew not to follow empty wagons, and they tried to breed their mares to Claiborne’s stallions going back to Tom Rolfe, and Drone, and the horses like that.
“And Seth and his dad were always – or his dad at first and then Seth – were always kind enough to let a mare or two come in there, and so there’s always been that connection. And then it goes down the line a little further, and we try and keep our others working for Claiborne Farm, and I worked – the only person I’ve ever worked for in the racetrack was [former Claiborne trainer] Frank Brothers.
“And so, you know, we’re kind of all tied in, and when Seth gave me a phone call and we met years ago, and he said, ‘I want to give you a majority of the horses,’ he was very excited, and we got very lucky with Blame in the first crop, I believe it was, and we’ve been together ever since, and hopefully we can keep going forward.”
Another famed Claiborne client was the Meadow Stable of Christopher Chenery, which shares its own piece of racing lore with the Phipps family. While Bold Ruler was standing at Claiborne, Chenery – a friend of the Phipps family – would send two mares to the stallion each year for two years, with ownership deciding by a coin flip which of the two families would own which resulting foal.
In 1969, Bull Hancock was a witness as New York Racing Association Chairman Alfred Vanderbilt flipped the coin that gave first choice of that year’s two foals, and Dinny Phipps chose the Something–royal filly The Bride, who eventually was winless in four starts. As the loser of the coin toss, Meadow Stable was left with a weanling colt out of Hasty Matelda named Rising River – and Meadow Stable also would have first pick of the foals from the two mares the next year.
However, Hasty Matelda was barren in 1970, so with the first pick that year, Meadow Stable ended up with the only foal, Secretariat. Both the Triple Crown winner and his stablemate, 1972 dual classic winner Riva Ridge, eventually entered stud at Claiborne. Riva Ridge also had been raised at the farm.
Other prominent clients over the decades included the late William Haggin Perry, who bred and raced many high-class runners in partnership with Claiborne, including 1979 Belmont Stakes winner Coastal and 1992 and 1993 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure. The latter, a son of Danzig trained by current Phipps family trainer Shug McGaughey, will be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in August.
“Lure was an incredible athlete,” Dell Hancock said. “Since he was one of the last horses we had in partnership with Mr. Perry, we are doubly thrilled that he is being recognized.”
The farm’s current clients include Joe Allen, represented as a breeder by Derby starter Lines of Battle this year.
“We’re blessed to have good people, good clients, who always think of what’s best for the horse,” Purcell said. “They’re very patient about what we do and what we tell them, and they listen to our advice.”
Kentucky Derby winners foaled and raised at Claiborne Farm
Ten Kentucky Derby winners, including two Triple Crown winners, have been foaled and raised at Claiborne. The group includes three horses bred solely or in partnership by the Hancock family; Swale is the only Derby winner to carry the farm’s colors to victory in the classic.
1930: Gallant Fox, bred and owned by Belair Stud
1935: Omaha, bred and owned by Belair Stud
1939: Johnstown, bred by A. B. Hancock Sr.; owned by Belair Stud
1947: Jet Pilot, bred by A. B. Hancock and Mrs. R. A. Van Clief; owned by Maine Chance Farm
1971: Canonero II, bred by Edward B. Benjamin; owned by Edgar Caibett
1972: Riva Ridge, bred and owned by Meadow Stable
1984: Swale, bred and owned by Claiborne Farm
1986: Ferdinand, bred by Howard Keck; owned by Elizabeth Keck
1995: Thunder Gulch, bred by Peter Brant; owned by Michael Tabor
2013: Orb, bred and owned by Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable
Kentucky Derby winners sired by Claiborne stallions
A total of 15 Kentucky Derby winners, including six Triple Crown winners, have been sired by 12 stallions who spent all or part of their stud careers at Claiborne.
Sir Gallahad III: Gallant Fox (1930), Gallahadion (1940), Hoop Jr. (1945)
Gallant Fox: Omaha (1935)
Blenheim II: Whirlaway (1941), Jet Pilot (1947)
Reigh Count: Count Fleet (1943)
Bold Ruler: Secretariat (1973)
Bold Reasoning: Seattle Slew (1977)
Nijinsky II: Ferdinand (1986)
Polish Navy: Sea Hero (1993)
Unbridled: Grindstone (1996)
Mr. Prospector: Fusaichi Pegasus (2000)
Our Emblem: War Emblem (2002)
Boundary: Big Brown (2008)
Notable horses foaled and raised at Claiborne for Phipps and Janney families
Bold Ruler: Champion, Preakness Stakes winner, leading sire, Hall of Fame
Ruffian: Champion filly, Hall of Fame
Private Terms: Grade 1 winner, sire
Icecapade: Grade 2 winner, sire
Numbered Account: Champion filly, producer
Personal Ensign: Unbeaten champion, Broodmare of the Year, Hall of Fame
Seeking the Gold: Multiple Grade 1 winner, sire
Easy Goer: Champion, Belmont Stakes winner, sire, Hall of Fame
My Flag: Multiple Grade 1 winner, producer
Storm Flag Flying: Champion filly
Orb: Kentucky Derby winner
An abbreviated Claiborne timeline
1910: Claiborne Farm established near Paris, Ky., by A. B. Hancock Sr.
1930: Claiborne-raised Gallant Fox wins Triple Crown.
1935: Claiborne-raised Omaha, a son of Gallant Fox, wins Triple Crown.
1941: Whirlaway, from Claiborne stallion Blenheim II’s first U.S. crop, wins Triple Crown.
1943: Claiborne-sired Count Fleet wins Triple Crown.
1954: Bold Ruler and Round Table are foaled in the same barn on the same day.
1955: Nashua, from Claiborne stallion Nasrullah’s first U.S. crop, named Horse of the Year.
1959: Claiborne forms partnership with William Haggin Perry that will last for 39 years and produce more than 100 stakes winners.
1967: Claiborne-raised Buckpasser, a champion for the Phipps family, syndicated for record $4.8 million.
1972: Ruffian, bred by Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Janney Jr. is foaled at Claiborne.
1973: Claiborne-sired Secretariat is syndicated by Seth Hancock for record $6.08 million, then sweeps Triple Crown. His sire, Claiborne stallion Bold Ruler, tops the general sire list for a record eighth time.
1977: Claiborne-sired Seattle Slew sweeps Triple Crown.
1979: Claiborne wins Eclipse Award as outstanding breeder.
1981: Future leading sires Mr. Prospector and Danzig arrive at Claiborne.
1984: Homebred Swale wins Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes but dies just days later. Claiborne sets single-season earnings record as leading American breeder and wins a second Eclipse.
1988, ‘89: Farm client Ogden Phipps is America’s leading breeder by earnings, campaigning champion and future Claiborne sire Easy Goer.
2008: Danzig becomes first American-based sire to reach the 200-stakes-winner milestone.
2010: Claiborne celebrates 100th anniversary as homebred Blame wins three Grade 1 races, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The farm is honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing.
2013: Claiborne-raised Orb wins Kentucky Derby.
I had such a wonderful farm tour at Claiborne. I will never forget his awesome it was to pet and feed peppermints to Orb and War Emblem. I was a personal witness to Orb winning the Derby. First time being there, rather than just watching it on TV. Everything was top notch at this farm.
Amazing story, you made me feel their passion. Thanks for putting so much into this. So many champs, two and four legged! May they continue for another century!
Orb simply the class of the field, history in the making. Wish my wife and I could attend the Belmont.
As a person who took notice of racing in "87" as a then 11yrs old. Its brings back my childhood days as color silks was my way of picking horses. So the "Gold" silks of Claiborne and the "Black silks with Cherry cap" of the Phipps was why I enjoyed the racing game thru the high and low of it. Great job on this story please tell more.
This belonged on the front page. Atta girl Nicolle.