The white and red silks of the Janney family are among the most iconic in the sport of horse racing. Associated with the ill-fated but brilliant all-time great Ruffian, the silks were also carried to victory in many prestigious races by the likes of Coronado's Quest, Icecapade, and Private Terms. But despite this stable's rich history, never have these silks visited the Kentucky Deny winner's circle, and neither has Shug McGaughey, one of the most respected trainers in the industry.
2013 could be the year that changes. Carrying these silks to Louisville is a McGaughey trainee from the same family as Ruffian: Orb. Conqueror of Florida's two most prestigious Derby prep races, Orb appears to be one of the strongest forces on the Derby trail.
It took Orb four times to break his maiden. In his debut at Saratoga, Orb reared at the start but closed impressively to finish third behind eventual grade one winner Violence. He acted up in the gate yet again in his next start, finishing fourth. Fourth again in his following start behind future graded stakes winner and Derby candidate Vyjack and black-type winner Clawback, Orb finally "figured it out" in his final start as a two-year-old. Closing impressively from off the pace, Orb maintained his momentum despite going wide, scoring by two lengths while defeating eventual graded stakes winner and Derby contender Revolutionary in the process.
All three of Orb's starts as a sophomore have come over the main track at Gulfstream Park. In his three-year-old debut, Orb encountered trouble in the early stages of a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming but once he settled, he steadily made up ground, rallying to win by a length.
Shortening up by a sixteenth of a mile for his graded stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII), Orb broke sharply from the rail in a nine-horse field. Settling comfortably off the pace, Orb raced several lengths off the leaders down the backstretch. Around the far turn, Orb made an imposing rally, gaining ground on the frontrunners with every stride. As grade one winner Violence – at the top of many Derby lists at the time – took the lead at the top of the stretch, Orb wore down the favorite, accelerating nicely once he drew even with that rival. Under a vigorous hand ride, the bay colt crossed the wire a half-length ahead.
Turning in his final prep race for the Run for the Roses in the Florida Derby (GI), Orb was sent off as the third choice behind Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) winner Itsmyluckyday and 2012 Two-Year-Old Champion Male Shanghai Bobby, who had suffered his first career defeat in the Holy Bull. Leaving the gate cleanly, Orb went wide around the clubhouse turn, rating just a few lengths off the lead as the horses galloped towards the backstretch, which made his position the closest he’d been to the pace since his second career start. As the field approached the final curve, Orb inched closer to the pacesetters, floating to the outside as the horses neared the homestretch. Orb was put into a drive by jockey John Velazquez as Itsmyluckyday struck to the lead and with ground-eating strides, the Stuart Janney III & Phipps Stable homebred wore down the favorite, coasting to an easy 2 ¾-length victory.
Though Orb is approaching the Derby with four consecutive wins – two of which were graded stakes victories against tough company, he has generated doubt with his running style and the slow times of his races. His time of 1:50.87 in the nine-furlong Florida Derby was not only the slowest since the track’s renovation, but was nearly two seconds – the equivalent of about ten lengths – slower than Dreaming of Julia’s time in the nine-furlong Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) earlier on the card. The filly, with the potential to become a superhorse, won that race by 21 ¾ lengths. In addition, Orb’s running style of closing hasn’t been incredibly successful in recent years at the Derby.
But an advantage Orb does have on his side is his distance-oriented pedigree. Orb's sire, Malibu Moon, is a son of A.P. Indy, winner of the Belmont Stakes (GI) and Breeders' Cup Classic (GI). One of the most prominent sires in recent years, A.P. Indy - a son of Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew - has produced the likes of the brilliant distance horses Bernardini, Mineshaft, and Rags to Riches. Malibu Moon himself has produced many successful routers, including Ask the Moon and Life at Ten, though he has excelled with sprinters and milers.
Out of the Stuart Janney mare Lady Liberty, Orb is a half-brother to Cause of Freedom, an earner of more than $100,000 who never won at a distance shorter than nine furlongs and won at up to eleven furlongs. A daughter of Derby and Classic victor Unbridled, Lady Liberty provides Orb with the same broodmare sire as the Preakness-winning Shackleford and that horse's half-sister, Lady Joanne, a grade one winner at ten furlongs. Lady Liberty's dam, Mesabi Maiden, was a graded stakes winner at nine furlongs that was successful up to eleven furlongs.
Orb’s tail female line is abounding with Reine de Course mares, perhaps the most notable being Shenanigans, dam of not only the track record-setting graded stakes winners Buckfinder and Icecapade, but also the great champion Ruffian. Residing in Orb’s family as his fifth dam, Shenanigans is just one of seven Reine de Course mares found in Orb’s female family. Other direct descendants of this great broodmare include Coronado’s Quest, who was a grade one winner at ten furlongs and Air Support, a graded stakes winner at ten furlongs on multiple occasions.
The stallions that line the bottom side of Orb’s pedigree are also very intriguing. The sire of Orb’s granddam is Cox’s Ridge, who was capable of winning at up to a mile and three-sixteenths – the distance of the Preakness Stakes (GI), the second leg of the Triple Crown. The great Damascus produced Orb’s third dam, the stakes-winning Steel Maiden. Damascus – considered one of the greatest racehorses of all-time – won two legs of the Triple Crown (the Preakness and Belmont), as well as several other distance races, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Travers Stakes, and the Brooklyn Handicap. Bold Ruler, perhaps most well-known for siring Triple Crown victor Secretariat, is the sire of Orb’s fourth dam. Bold Ruler held this same position in the pedigree of Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide.