LOUISVILLE, KY. — — When his first Kentucky Derby horse, Orb, was named the favorite Wednesday, Stuart S. Janney the III was not there to raise his hands triumphantly for the cameras.
He won't be in Louisville at all in the days leading to the race. A short phone call with his trainer each day is all the northern Baltimore County resident requires. The rest, he'd rather avoid.
"There's a lot of silliness that happens this week," he said Monday. "And I've got paperwork to catch up on."
Janney is instead in New York, where he spends much of his time at the 5th Avenue headquarters of the Bessemer Trust, the wealth management firm of which he is the chairman. Despite his life-long association with the highest levels of horse racing — his family has been breeding and racing horses since the late 19th century, and the Butler native was 29th in earnings among owners last year — Janney has never had a horse entered in the Kentucky Derby.
Janney and his cousin and sometimes stable partner, Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, make for the sort of narrative those around horse racing crave in the days leading up to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. Theirs is a tale of dedication to the sport, marked with affiliations to the greatest horses of the era but lacking that signature win in the races that make up the Triple Crown and captivate a broad audience.
Here is their chance, finally, after striving for so long.
Only, that story does not hold.
The combined Phipps and Janney families have raced thousands of horses without directing many toward running the long distances early in their 3-year-old years that the Triple Crown requires.
Instead, they have tried to allow their homebred colts and fillies to mature slowly and run in the important 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 Monday in Baltimore. "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."
Such caution and appreciation of the long view seems to fit the Janney that business partners and friends know.
"I think Stuart really loves the detail of it," said Josh Pons, the Bel Air breeder who along with his brother owns a quarter of Malibu Moon, Orb's sire. "He loves planning it out over years and years and being patient and watching it come to fruition."
If the product of that work happens to be a horse who is good enough — who is truly ready — for the Kentucky Derby, Janney said, he'll let the horse take him where he needs to go.
The son of a down-on-her-luck mare and a sire that some of the Kentucky establishment still had doubts about, he failed to break from the gate in his first race — and then nearly caught the winner of the race.
He's only gotten better.
"That's probably the first time I realized that he was the sort of horse who could handle it," Janney said. "He's that special case."
A horse family
Janney has served since 2008 as the chairman of the national Jockey Club's thoroughbred safety committee. Equine protection has become the main focus of his work with the national body and the New York Racing Association's board of directors.
That shouldn't be a surprise. Orb's family lines run back to Ruffian, a filly bred by Janney's parents out of the Phipps' top stallion, Secretariat sire Bold Ruler.
Ruffian won her first 10 races, setting new records in eight stakes. She was euthanized in July 1975 after shattering her right foreleg in a nationally televised match race with that year's Kentucky Derby winner.
That shook the family of long-time horsemen. Janney had taken his then girlfriend Lynn and now wife of nearly 38 years — they met in college when Janney asked to see her notes from a class and she said no — to Ruffian's final race to introduce her to the sport.
"It was just devastating," she said. "I remember clear as day the way Ruffian put her head on [trainer] Frank Whiteley's shoulder, and then going to wait for word from the vets."
Janney's father and grandfather were integral members of the Maryland Racing Commission, and his father won the Maryland Hunt Cup four times.
Janney focused his energies elsewhere, though. A Gilman, University of North Carolina and University of Maryland Law School graduate, he decided to remain focused on his career when he took over the family stable upon his father's death in 1988. That meant moving the breeding operation from Glyndon to famed Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat stood and Seth Hancock could manage the day-to-day workings.
"Ever since he took over, I've been impressed with how level-headed and thorough he is," Hancock said. "He has the people he listens to, and he considers that advice carefully before making a decision."
Janney said he asks McGaughey to monitor the races available in Maryland, but few end up being good fits for his horses. He remains frustrated that the state, tracks and horsemen bickered for more than a decade while the game in his home state almost disappeared.
In 1998, Janney served as the chair for a committee called together by Gov. Parris Glendening and the Maryland Racing Commission to look for ways to make the sport economically viable in the state. Navigating through bitter feuds and bureaucratic fog soured Janney on the experience, but John McDaniel, then the racing commission chair and still a member of that state board, said Janney's deft hand led to a thorough report.
"I'd have to go back and read it again, but the work they did certainly foretold the 10-year deal we just reached," McDaniel said. "A lot of the same themes are there. Stuart is simply a top-notch exec, and he cut through and found solutions. It just took a while to get there."
Staying the course
Janney will fly to Louisville on Saturday and go straight to his seats without stopping by the barn where McGaughney and his staff will be enduring one of the longest waiting periods in all of sports.
"Shug knows what to do," he said. "He doesn't need me there."
Janney is not at all disengaged. He spends his early mornings monitoring the horses in training and broodmare band before turning to his work for Bessemer. Though he travels frequently and spends most of the week away from Maryland, he enjoys that work and says he has given no thought to stepping down to spend more time on his racing interests.
"I guess I could do that," said Janney, who serves on numerous boards, including two for Johns Hopkins alone. "But I'd get bored, I think."
This week proves that the build up to a big race holds little allure for Janney. He may be a bit ornery on Friday as the tension builds, his wife Lynn said, but that passes quickly.
"If you could really pin him down and get to the root of it," McGaughey said, "he'd say how much he wants to win. But you won't be able to do that."
If Orb does not win the Derby but stays healthy, Janney plans to go to Texas on Sunday for a business meeting.
If Orb does win, Janney plans to stay.
"Sunday would be important," he said, "so we could figure out what the next best move is for the horse."
Education: Gilman, University of North Carolina, University of Maryland law school
Professional: Janney is the 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). It now manages more than $50 billion in assets and assists clients with investments and legacy planning. Janney also worked as a managing partner at Alex Brown and Sons in Baltimore. He began his career with several positions in federal government.
Janney has also serves or has served on dozens of corporate and educational boards. He's the chairman of the Johns Hopkins applied physics lab and a trustee for the university. He's the vice chairman of the Jockey Club, a national body that supports horse racing. He is a past president of the Maryland Million.
Family: Wife, Lynn; Daughter Emily is a Bryn Mawr graduate currently working in New York; Son Matt graduated from Gilman and is currently working in Hong Kong