05/12/2013 9:00AM

Orb is a testament to patience and planning

Tom Keyser
Orb’s owners, Dinny Phipps and Stuart Janney III, are congratulated by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear following their win in the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

There was a moment several years ago when it would have looked smart to sell Lady Liberty.

The mare descended from an illustrious family tree that features such names as Ruffian and Private Terms. But her branch of the family had not produced a major runner since her dam, Mesabi Maiden, won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in 1996.

In 2009, Lady Liberty herself looked like an unproductive twig. Boarded at Seth Hancock’s Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., she’d been afforded several chances, with little return. Her first foal won three races, none of them black type; her second was winless; her third died as a yearling; and she failed to conceive on her fourth mating.

Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, who owns Lady Liberty and six other mares in partnership with his cousin, Stuart Janney III, recommended pruning.

“I didn’t think she was going to make it as a great broodmare, and, yes, I suggested he sell her,” Phipps, 72, said recently.

But Janney was reluctant.

“I felt, and really was very much backed up by Seth Hancock, that maybe we hadn’t gotten her to the right stallion, and maybe we needed to give her more of a chance,” said Janney, 64. “She was good-looking, and she’s an Unbridled mare, and it was increasingly obvious that that was a very good thing.”

Janney convinced Phipps to keep Lady Liberty and breed her to A.P. Indy’s son, Malibu Moon. The result, of course, was Orb, whose 2 1/2-length win in the May 4 Kentucky Derby gave the Phipps and Janney families their first Derby victory.

“Now, I think she’s a great broodmare,” Phipps said with a laugh several days after the race. “I started laughing with Stuart after Orb won the Fountain of Youth and said, ‘I don’t want to hear any more of this stuff. I have changed my opinion.’ ”

Phipps’s father, Ogden Phipps, started partnering with Janney 25 years ago, at a time when Janney was considering whether to disperse his parents’ famed Locust Hill Farm bloodstock. The Janneys’ homebreeding program had produced, among others, the excellent broodmare Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian, Icecapade, and Buckfinder and the second dam of the family’s 1988 Wood Memorial winner and sire, Private Terms.

But when Stuart Janney Jr. and his wife, Barbara, died within a year of each other in the late 1980s, it left their son and Locust Hill at a crossroads. A phone call from his Uncle Ogden helped convince the younger Janney to stay in the sport.

“I was very, very close to Uncle Ogden,” Janney recalled recently. “At some point, he said, ‘Stuart, as you think about this, if there are any fillies or mares or whatever that you might like to have me own half of, I would be glad to do that. My only condition is that they get trained by Shug McGaughey. Otherwise, I’ll just be, in effect, your silent partner.’ I didn’t want him to be a silent partner. The thing I was looking for was the fact that he’d help me and give me advice, and that I’d be in a lot better position to do a reasonable job with it.”

Janney agreed and nominated one weanling filly and one 5-year-old mare as the new partnership’s first horses. The filly was Deputation, who developed into a graded stakes winner and graded producer, and the broodmare was Steel Maiden.

A three-quarters sister to Private Terms, Steel Maiden looked like a promising producer. She was a Shenanigans granddaughter and a two-time stakes winner who had finished second to champion Family Style in the 1986 Black-Eyed Susan. Steel Maiden’s second runner, the Forty Niner colt Pro Prospect, was stakes-placed. Her fifth foal, the Cox’s Ridge daughter Mesabi Maiden, raised Janney’s and Phipps’s expectations when she vindicated her dam’s loss in the Black-Eyed Susan by winning the race in 1996.

But Mesabi Maiden did not live up to her owners’ high hopes in the breeding shed.

“This particular branch of the family kind of did go a little quiet for a while,” Janney acknowledged. “Steel Maiden was a very nice broodmare but maybe not everything you’d hope. Mesabi Maiden was her very best, and when Mesabi went to Claiborne after her racing career, I would have said that she’d be an absolute star. She was beautiful-looking. She had a good race record; the horse she beat in the Black-Eyed Susan was Bernardini’s dam, Cara Rafaela.

“And Mesabi Maiden was everything you’d want in terms of pedigree,” Janney added. “But she had a spotty history as a broodmare. Obviously, producing Lady Liberty makes it all worthwhile. These families have a way of going a little bit quiet for a while and then waking up, and that’s sort of what’s going on here.”

The worrying question for breeders, though, is whether a bloodline’s quiet moment is merely a pause or the petering out of a productive line. Dinny Phipps has carried on his father’s enormously successful homebreeding program – and the partnership with Janney – since Ogden Phipps’s death in 2002. And he’s bred champions in his own right. But he, too, has been caught on the wrong side of the “keep or cull” decision.

In 2006, after mating his A.P. Indy mare Supercharger to Maria’s Mon, Phipps sold her for $160,000 to WinStar Farm. The resulting colt – officially bred by WinStar because it owned the mare when he was born – was Super Saver, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2010.

That could have been the Phipps family’s first Derby winner, salving the wound left from their last attempt in 1989, when Ogden Phipps’s Easy Goer lost to Sunday Silence and Dinny Phipps’s Awe Inspiring finished third.

“It’s just part of the game, and there are only so many you can keep,” Dinny Phipps said of Supercharger. “Her record wasn’t very distinguished. I look at trying to cull mares out of my broodmare band, and I’ve reduced them down to a lot less than I had before, and she didn’t make the cut. She proved me wrong, too.”

By the time Super Saver won his Derby, though they didn’t know it, Phipps and Janney already owned a Derby winner.

Orb was born Feb. 24, 2010, and from the beginning, Janney and Phipps knew the Malibu Moon–Lady Liberty mating had improved their position.

“He was by far her best-looking foal,” Janney said. “We didn’t go, ‘My heavens, he’s our Derby winner,’ but he was a very attractive colt, and he did everything the right way at every stage. We were very pleased. So, we went and bred to Flatter, and that’s about seven-eighths the same family as Malibu Moon, just about as close as you can get. We’ve gotten a terrific colt this year. He couldn’t be more attractive. He’s bright, he’s athletic, and all the rest. Now, we’re back to Malibu Moon, for obvious reasons.”

Malibu Moon, who started his breeding career at the Pons family’s Country Life Farm in Maryland before relocating to Kentucky – he now stands at B. Wayne Hughes’s Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Ky., – has become one of Thoroughbred breeding’s fashionable sires. But fashion isn’t what drives the Janney and Phipps breeding program, which is geared exclusively toward their own racing stable, not the auction ring. They don’t “over-intellectualize” Thoroughbred breeding, as Janney puts it, but their criteria can be exacting.

“I’ve always felt that to put a filly back in the broodmare band, she must either have run well or had an excuse not to run well,” Phipps said. “I’ve put horses in the band that never ran but were beautifully bred and had a physical problem that I didn’t think they’d breed on. But in most cases, I’ve tried to put broodmares back that have black type. I’m not one that looks at fancy charts. I look at what their race record is, what they look like, and what Shug thinks of them. I’m sure all that pedigree analysis works, but I’m not into that.

“I don’t think we have to come out with a 2-year-old that runs five furlongs,” he added. “That’s just not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a horse that can run a mile and run a mile well. We really don’t try to press what we have. We try to make sure they’re ready to run, and our philosophy is not to breed the six-furlong horse.”

Homebreeders have lately been dominant in the Kentucky Derby – seven of the race’s last 11 winners were raced by the people who bred them – but both the Phipps and Janney families have only started a few in the fabled race, despite breeding their horses with classic stamina in mind.

“Yes, that’s what they’re ultimately supposed to do, but it isn’t always what they want to do in the spring of their 3-year-old year, and it’s certainly not what they’re going to be doing with huge success in the fall of their 2-year-old year,” Janney explained. “There are plenty of my horses that come every year – and same thing with Dinny – where I ask Shug, ‘What do you and [bloodstock adviser] Niall Brennan think?’ And the answer is, ‘I like him, but he’s not going to be early.’ From one point of view, that could be not good at all, but I don’t care. I just want to hear the first part of the sentence, which is that he’s going to be good.

“I’ve come to understand this: When you’re dealing with these pedigrees over a long period of time, it’s a little like painting a picture,” Janney added. “Like an oil, where you get to rub out or scrape off the oil and redo sections of it until you finally get it right. ... You see what doesn’t work, and you can add bits, whether it’s size or speed or whatever it is. You don’t always get it right at first, but you start to get it right over time.

“With this family, we didn’t get it right in the beginning, but we kind of felt like we were getting it right when we saw Orb.”

Dr. Brenda E. Abbey More than 1 year ago
There is no greater thrill than to watch as your home-bred thoroughbred foal develops and learns to be a racehorse- right from the first time that you see him to when he begins to train then starts in his first race. There is a saying that my first trainer shared " when dreams come true with racehorse, it brings happiness straight from the heart" That saying became the inspiration for me in designing my racing silks . Dr. Brenda E. Abbey
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
They better take a hard look @ Gio Ponti...
Jorge Cardoso Contreras More than 1 year ago
Very good history
Richard Berry More than 1 year ago
Breeding livestock of any kind is like mixing paint go back to the same thing and you always have the same no surprises I have bred show animals all my life and it works. Give me 5 top winning mares and I bred winners every time. Bred back to what you got.
Sam More than 1 year ago
Great article
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Orb is a 5x5 cross to Bold Ruler. Can ANYone put together more solid foundation - whether they planned step by step to it or not? I tink da gods have stepped in...
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Black More than 1 year ago
You keep talking about the 5x5 cross to Bold Ruler. Is that supposed to mean something ? How many 5x5 Bold Rulers have there been ? How many TC races have they won ? How many have started in a TC race since 1980 ? How many plain ol' Bold Ruler T-males have won the Derby or other TC races since 1980 ? If you can't answer those questions than 5X5 cross to pickaname doesn't mean much.
mike turfmonstr More than 1 year ago
Why would anyone send a mare to Bernardini? So far he's been a bust overall.......The dam side hasn't helped either...at least so far. OK.....without looking how many Bernardini's have become excellent racehorses?.....ok I'll give you a minute.......exactly.... His highest money earner this year so far is Spellbound at 67,000.00.....he ranks 67th on the general sire list........Since he is at Darley and unlike some other sires has been sent every fashionable mare on the planet you'd think he'd show something, but no, so far he hasn't. For 150,000 I'd want a better return........It seems Spellbound is about 90,000 short......The worst part is one day a horse by Bernardini will run well and make lots of money and everyone will say "I told you so"......Of course that will be an illusion.....but folks can dream......You want classic distance horses? Malibu Moon, Empire Maker (though the do seem to run better as they get older, not good if you want a derby horse) Awesome Again, Tiznow.......not Into Mischief, Indian Charlie or Tapit.......or War Pass....though I think that could change given the right female lines........anyway.....Bernardini wouldn't be high on my list. Most sires, whether considered good or bad find a niche........English Channel is considered by most breeders or folks who write about breeding as a bust.....really? Considering the quality of mares sent to him I'd say he's doing ok. His progeny have a niche.....if you know what that niche is you can make some money, if not? well you throw away tickets. My biggest beef with Breeding "Guru's" is it is by no means an exact science......The phrase "Breed the best to the best and hope for the best" wasn't coined because folks have a real good handle on things. So folks in the industry and students of animal husbandry all come out of the closet leading up to the Derby and continue right up until the Belmont giving us tidbits of their collective wisdom.......which means exactly what?.......What every horse player needs is someone to tell them, or at least help them understand how all that info can turn a profit at the windows and no one has.....which should tell you something. They rarely tell you anything that would help the average railbird win the 5th at Pimlico......well I shouldn't say rarely...I should say never. If they really had any convictions on what they say half the time they wouldn'y be telling you that a Tapit, Into Mischief or an Indian Charlie has a shot in the Derby......against 25,000 claimers at 1 1/4m maybe, but not against higher class animals. Knowing that Giant's Causeway"s and Rock Hard Ten"s get better with age can help you make a buck.......Hat Tricks on turf and better as they get older....How many of you were all over Howe Great in his last? Well my partner and I were, because we spend the time and effort to find out what works and what doesn't....but I digress and this isn't an info-mmercial......All the info you need is out there, unfortunately some of it cost money....databases aren't free......but it would be in everyone's best interest to learn as much as you can and not repeat what you hear from the "experts".......it is your money after all........
not impressed More than 1 year ago
People don't look at what Bernardini has done lately, they look at what he's produced so far...quick 2yos...Wilburn, To Honor And Serve, Alpha, A Z Warrior, Stay Thirsty, etc. I have never been impressed by the horse, mainly because he never raced past age 3. and I'm not impressed by what he has sired so far. Granted Rachel and Zenyatta have foals by him and I am hoping to see them run well, but I fear both of them will not really show anything like they are bred. Overall Bernardini hasn't been super successful but he's gotten a few runners. But I haven't been overwhelmed with his what he's sired. I mean To Honor And Serve couldn't win a GI or couldn't do well outside of NY. Stay Thirsty was a bust outside of NY and Wilburn didn't get a chance to really show what he had other than the Indiana Derby. Alpha was retired before he really got to prove anything an A Z Warrior was never good past 2. So in reality, Bernardini just has too much for me to prove. He's a commerical distinction at this point but not a horse I would pick for my top mare. I LOVE Hat Trick and I hope he becomes a big success. There are some very nice under appreciated stallions in the market...I sure wish Maria's Mon was still around. What a nice all around stallion he was!
Gunner More than 1 year ago
Three lines or less and someone might read what you write.
mike turfmonstr More than 1 year ago
you read it.......
Gunner More than 1 year ago
Actually I didn't. Toooooooooo damn long for an amateur opinionator..
mike turfmonstr More than 1 year ago
amatuer?, you have no idea who I am........You can't teach one who knows everything......so I'll leave you be
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
That was a long commentary!
Black More than 1 year ago
See Spot run more up your alley ?
Black More than 1 year ago
Please MikeA not so long. :) I can't concentrate for more than two sentences . :) U cud rite lik dis 2 elimn8 sum o da letrs :)
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Bernardini stands at Darley. Flatter stands at Claiborne ... politics, my dear Anonymous, politics.
not impressed More than 1 year ago
It's harder than you think to get a breeding at Darley to any of their stallions. The dam of Shackleford for example was supposed to go to Bernardini to be the sire of him, but Darley rejected the mare, hence she was bred to Forestry instead and voila, a classic winner for Forestry. Darley missed the boat on that one big time.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Great article about breeding and foundation. But lets not forget that if Orb wasn't developed with the same patient trainer, we may not even know him. Shug's patience is what made this colt.
Tee Jay More than 1 year ago
Yeah sure, and what else has Shug come up with with his divine patience? He gets a Derby win and everybody says his patience has paid off. You can say that for any trainer that has been in the sport for decades and finally gets the big one. The fact is Shug trains horses for wealthy people who want trophies and not cash in the bank. They aren't pressuring Shug for an early return and many of the horses Shug is patient with were a waste of the time but we don't hear about the culls, do we? Life for the elite is easy and training for them is as well. Hanging a shingle out with "public trainer" on it is the hard road but working your way up through the estate farms of the elite to the track is the easy road. If Shug has any sons then I suppose they're bred "in the purple" to be a "Derby trainer" too......its just a matter of patience....yeah right.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Guys it all starts with the horse. My Saarland is still running.. Gotta have the horse. Ask Pat Riley
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
True. My point is that some may have put blinkers on for more speed and such. Shug just let him developed knowing.g the colt was bred to go long.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
All 'BS' 'TJ'... The Colt is here and is in the best care possible. Take your troubles elsewhere.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
How refreshing to hear owners who breed to race and not breed to sell. This philosophy is what built the sport to its glory days.