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Saving Race
Tim Layden
May 13, 2013
ON A DREARY DAY AT CHURCHILL DOWNS FAVORED ORB CHARGED TO A ROUSING VICTORY IN THE KENTUCKY DERBY, PROVIDING SWEET REDEMPTION FOR TWO OWNERS AND A TRAINER WHO HAD EACH ENDURED MOMENTS OF EPIC MISFORTUNE
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May 13, 2013

Saving Race

ON A DREARY DAY AT CHURCHILL DOWNS FAVORED ORB CHARGED TO A ROUSING VICTORY IN THE KENTUCKY DERBY, PROVIDING SWEET REDEMPTION FOR TWO OWNERS AND A TRAINER WHO HAD EACH ENDURED MOMENTS OF EPIC MISFORTUNE

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Phipps allowed that their shared horses would wear the white-and-red Janney silks and that Janney would get all the trophies. Phipps attached one other condition: McGaughey would train their horses.

McGaughey's connection to racing began with his after-school visits to the mutuel windows at Keeneland and continued with low-level jobs on the backside. He worked for trainer David Carr in Kentucky and for Frank and David Whiteley in New York and South Carolina before becoming a trainer in 1979. He was first introduced to the Phipps family when he played a round of golf with Ogden in '83, but it was Dinny who hired him to replace Angel Penna as the family's exclusive trainer two years later. "I watched Shug for a long time," says Phipps. "He was a great filly trainer; that was important because we breed our own stock, we don't go to the sales." They have been together 28 years, the equivalent of 10 lifetimes in a business in which loyalty is fleeting and new-money owners jump trainers as quickly as they snatch up yearlings.

In 1999 the Janney-Phipps team foaled a filly by '90 Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Unbridled and named her Lady Liberty. She raced through her 4-year-old season with modest success, winning four nonstakes races and $202,045. As a broodmare, her first three foals were a colt (later gelded) in 2006 who won three times in 17 starts, a filly in '07 who raced just once and a colt in '08 who never raced. In '09 she was barren. "I wanted to sell her," says Phipps. Janney did not. Seth Hancock, the owner of Kentucky's Claiborne Farm, a longtime Phipps (and Phipps-Janney) adviser, sided with Janney and persuaded Phipps to try again. Lady Liberty was bred to stallion Malibu Moon, and the resulting foal was Orb.

The colt was beaten in his first three races, at Saratoga (August), Belmont (September) and Aqueduct (November). "He had excuses," says McGaughey. "He had problems in the [starting] gate. I felt like things would still go our way. But I didn't expect him to bring us here, at that point." Orb won his first race two days after Thanksgiving at Aqueduct and then won his first race of 2013 in a 11/8-mile stake on Jan. 13 at Florida's Gulfstream Park, winter home for some of McGaughey's horses.

Jockey issues arose next. Rosario, 28, who is from the Dominican Republic and is one of the hottest riders in the U.S., and his agent, Ron Anderson, were told by McGaughey that Orb might skip the Feb. 23 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a Derby prep race. Anderson put Rosario atop Speak Logistics in the same race, and when McGaughey changed his mind and decided to run Orb, he needed a new rider and went with respected veteran John Velazquez. Orb won the race by half a length over the previously unbeaten Violence. Five weeks later, when Orb won the Florida Derby, Rosario was riding 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup; Velazquez rode Orb again.

Yet Velazquez was also the regular rider for unbeaten Verrazano and trainer Todd Pletcher. Faced with a choice, Velazquez, who has a long relationship with Pletcher, went with Verrazano. McGaughey turned back to Rosario. "We thought, politically, Johnny would go with Verrazano," says Anderson. "Three other Derby trainers called me about Joel [pronounced Jo-ELL]. When a guy gets on a roll like this kid, he could jump on a stable pony at the barn and think he could win a race." (Verrazano and Velazquez finished 14th last Saturday.)

When race day turned wet and chilly, McGaughey remembered that Easy Goer had lost in the cold and felt uneasy. When Rosario broke from the gate and dropped to 16th place before racing four wide into the first turn, McGaughey fretted. "Until I saw the time," he says.

On the front, Palace Malice was humming along in 22.57 seconds for the first quarter mile, 45.33 for the half mile (third fastest in Derby history) and 1:09.80 for the three-quarter mile (fifth fastest ever). Among horses in the top five at the three-quarters pole, only Oxbow (trained by 77-year-old D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by 50-year-old Gary Stevens) would finish in the top six. The rest were cooked.

Rosario waited until well down the backside to ask Orb for run, but when he did, the colt surged, passing a dozen horses in 14 seconds and reeling in leader Normandy Invasion at the eighth pole before carrying Ruffian's colors under the wire 2½ lengths clear.

The sport now turns its eyes to Baltimore. It is there that Orb will take aim at completing the next step in one of the most stubborn droughts in any game: The last horse to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978. It was at Pimlico, more than four decades ago, that 14-year-old Stuart Janney III was in the saddling paddock for the Preakness with his extended family when he was escorted into a clubhouse bar by his uncle Ogden. "He ordered two shots of whiskey, and one of them was in front of me," recalled Janney last Saturday night. "My uncle took one and, bop, drank it just like that. Then he looked at me and said, 'Come on, we're ready to go.'"

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