Stuart Janney III slipped into Churchill Downs virtually unnoticed Saturday afternoon, a few hours after landing in Lexington and driving to the track with his wife, two children and son-in-law. The northern Baltimore County resident, who had avoided the Kentucky Derby fanfare all week, soon found himself as the center of attention.
Orb, owned by Janney and his cousin Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, captured the 139th Kentucky Derby Saturday through the mud in 2:02.89 to win by 261/27 lengths. Guided by jockey Joel Rosario, Orb went off as the 5-1 favorite and paid $12.80, $7.40 and $5.40 for a $2 bet. The ownership group took home just over $1.4 million of a nearly $2.2 million purse.
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Janney and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey plan to ship Orb today to New York to be stabled at Belmont Park, where he’ll stay until a few days before the May 18 Preakness. While McGaughey said he “couldn’t wait” to get the colt to the Preakness, Janney expressed caution and said he’d wait to see how Orb fares today Sunday before making a final decision about Maryland’s biggest sporting event. But coming from a longtime Maryland horse family, Janney understands the importance and history of the Preakness.
For Janney and Phipps, heirs to one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious racing operations, it was their first Kentucky Derby victory. Janney had never had a horse in the Derby before, though his father had taken the favorite, Private Terms, into the race in 1988, the same year he died in a car accident. Private Terms finished ninth. He was related to Ruffian, the filly his parents raced before she died tragically in a nationally televised match race.
“Of course I think about my parents,” Janney said. “This was their dream, and as far as I was able to get it done it was on their shoulders. They put me in this position.”
Janney and Phipps subscribe to a conservative philosophy when it comes to turning their home-breds into race horses. And though McGaughey admitted this week to dreaming of winning the Derby, he has been patiently waiting for a horse who could convince them all he was ready for the rigors of the mile-and-a-quarter race.
Orb brought them here Saturday and showed he was more than ready.
Starting from the 16th post position in the 19-horse field on a course rated as “sloppy,” Orb stayed patient and showed the closing speed he is known for. Rosario, the hottest jockey in the country, kept him well off the pace and didn’t make a move until the pack hit the top of the stretch.
“He was way back,” McGaughey said. “... He’s 15 lengths back. But when he punched the button he was there.”
Golden Soul, a 38-1 long shot, finished second and returned $38.60 and $19.40, while Revolutionary paid $5.40 to show.
In two important prep races in Florida, Orb showed the versatility to win by either making a late charge or by stalking the lead. Having the ability to make a deep run — and do it from a wide position — helped him Saturday, as did his experience getting dirt kicked in his face in the Fountain of Youth.
After the victory on Saturday, Janney finally allowed himself to celebrate, hugging his family. When he arrived at his seat before the race — luckily under cover — surrounded by owners of other Derby hopefuls, Janney appeared almost solemn. In a different sport, an athlete similarly unmoved by the moment might be labeled stoic or even aloof.
But that demeanor is not unusual for Janney, who lives in Butler. He’s that focused before big race weekends, said his wife, Lynn, and the family knows to give him his space.
Orb also gave McGaughey his first Kentucky Derby win as well. McGaughey had three promising horses race in the Derby in the late 1980s, but has returned only once since.
Orb’s win will also be a boon for Country Life Farm in Fallston. Long run by the Pons family, brothers Mike and Josh Pons bought a lightly-raced stallion named Malibu Moon more than a decade ago in hopes he would produce strong runners to build a national reputation. He did, and was moved to Kentucky. Janney, who has his mares at historic Claiborne Farm outside Lexington, knew of Malibu Moon from hearing about his success in Maryland and opted to book to him.
“You dream for something like this to happen your whole life, and then it does and you can’t believe it,” Mike Pons said Saturday. “After the race, I had to ask the person sitting next to me if Orb had really won, because I thought maybe I’d imagined it. When they said, ’yes,’ then it all came to me. He’d won the Kentucky Derby.
“[Orb’s sire] Malibu Moon loved to run in the mud, so the track being wet didn’t worry us too much.”
The Pons brothers still own a quarter of Malibu Moon, and his stud fees helped the brothers keep the farm open while Maryland racing waited for slots money to support the game.
The combined Phipps and Janney families, who have been breeding and racing horses since the late 19th century, have entered thousands of horses in races but would rather let their colts and fillies mature slowly and not run the long distances early in their 3-year-old years.
They point their horses to late summer and fall races leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
“Honestly, I think the push for the Triple Crown does a lot of harm,” Janney said last week before the Derby. “It takes a really exceptional horse to even run in those races at that age. But there’s so much focus on it that, I think, trainers and owners push the horses and maybe miss little injuries, or don’t see that a horse isn’t going the way he needs to.”
Despite running a robust stable since his father’s death in 1988, Janney said he avoids trying to handicap races. He asks McGaughey for his opinion, but that usually amounts to nothing more than a brief scouting report of the other horses in the race. Prior to the Derby, he expressed concern with how Orb would handle the wet track — but also faith in his breeding. Janney picked the dam, Lady Liberty, and sire, Malibu Moon, despite advice from Phipps to get rid of the mare.
“But he outsmarted me,” Phipps joked.
Janney’s father and grandfather were Maryland Racing Commission members, and his father, Stuart S. Janney Jr., won the Maryland Hunt Cup four times. Janney’s parents owned and bred the great filly Ruffian out of the Phipps’ Reviewer, a Bold Ruler colt. Ruffian won her first 10 races, but shattered her right foreleg in a nationally televised match race in July 1975 with Foolish Pleasure, that year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
Janney spent the week in New York, away from the constant talk of the Derby. He is chairman of the Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm originally set up to oversee the Phipps family fortune (Janney is a great-grandson of Henry Phipps, Andrew Carnegie’s business partner). A graduate of Gilman, the University of North Carolina and the University of Maryland Law School, Janney was a managing director at Alex Brown and Sons in Baltimore before moving to Bessemer.
He serves or has served on dozens of corporate and educational boards. He’s chairman of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and a trustee for the university. He’s vice chairman of the Jockey Club, a national body that supports horse racing.
Janney can now add one more title to his resume — co-owner of Orb, Kentucky Derby winner.
“The horse’s bloodline goes back to my grandmother, and Dinny’s father was very intrumental in getting me to take over my parents’ horses 20-some years ago,” Janney said. “And I just couldn’t be more delighted that we’re doing this together.”
Dewey Fox of the Baltimore Sun Media Group contributed to this article.