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Orb is a testament to patience and planning
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.”
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
They better take a hard look @ Gio Ponti...
Very good history
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.
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...
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........
Bernardini stands at Darley. Flatter stands at Claiborne ... politics, my dear Anonymous, politics.
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.
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.