How did it suddenly become almost seven years since Orb provided a legend with a coveted Kentucky Derby victory?
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, and owners Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable, earned that signature victory in the mud and the mire at Churchill Downs May 4, 2013. The son of Malibu Moon announced himself about two and a half months prior, winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park by a measured half-length for his third straight victory.
Orb landed on many Kentucky Derby watch lists after the Fountain of Youth, which goes as the feature on a loaded card Saturday at Gulfstream Park. He added the Grade 1 Florida Derby a little more than a month later and Sean Clancy went along for the ride.
“With five weeks before the Derby, Orb is at the top of the hill. At least, at the top of McGaughey’s hill,” Sean wrote in his piece titled “The Orb: McGaughey circles into Florida Derby” posted March 28, two days before the Florida Derby.
McGaughey went on to discuss Orb’s progress between races, telling Sean, “He’s made great strides since the Fountain of Youth, physically, he’s a lot stronger horse, he’s coming into his coat, he had a great work up there Monday, schooled good yesterday. It’s up to him, now. We always kind of liked him, he was always a horse, the further he went, the better he got. I thought once we got him going a distance of ground, it would probably help.”
In the waning days of the 2013 Keeneland spring meeting, Sean visited with McGaughey again, discussing Orb and the conditioner’s good run that winter and spring. Everything came back to the Derby favorite in the piece titled “Still in the Orb” posted April 26.
“He came out of the race really well, it looks like all systems are go,” McGaughey said of the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. “I’m hoping I can hold what I got. If he doesn’t move forward and he doesn’t move backward, then I think we can be competitive. I think he’ll go forward.”
Orb moved forward. He relished the sloppy track at Churchill Downs a little more than a week later and won by 2 1/2 lengths over longshot Golden Soul as the 5-1 favorite in the field of 19.
Sean’s piece titled “In the Orb on Derby Day” posted May 10 set the scene.
“It’s 5:30 in the morning at Churchill Downs. Two days before the Kentucky Derby. One cup of coffee finished, working on the second. Still dark. Still a racetrack. It took an old-habits-die-hard ex-trainer to get me here this early. The tourists won’t get here until 7, they think that’s when it starts, to me, it’s when it ends. I’d give up the afternoon races for the morning exercises. With two hours before my first gig, there’s one place to go.”
A week after the 2013 Kentucky Derby we commemorated the historic score with the first in a multi-part series about Claiborne Farm, the birthplace of Orb, titled “Orb adds to Claiborne legacy” written by Tom Law.
Orb didn’t win again in his four starts after the Derby, but finished fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont and Travers. He retired that fall and we were there again, to sum up the colt’s career before a spot in the Claiborne stallion barn beckoned.
Joe Clancy’s piece “On Orb: McGaughey, Janney reflect on retirement,” starts with a cool interaction between Shug and legendary golfer Raymond Floyd before weaving its way to a short introduction to the barn’s next star, Honor Code.
“Way back in May, Orb delivered that feeling to his trainer by charging through, between and around 18 rivals to win America's horse race,” Joe wrote. “Six months later, the ride ended as McGaughey and owners Stuart Janney and Dinny Phipps announced Orb’s retirement. McGaughey and Janney cited economics, business, timing, pretty much anything other than their horse's health – he’s fit, sound, in the best shape of his life by all accounts – as reasons for calling it a career. Orb won’t make a planned start in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct later this month. He’s already at the place of his birth, Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, learning about life on the farm and preparing to stand his first season at stud for $25,000 live foal.
“McGaughey would have liked another chance with the bay son of Malibu Moon. Janney called the decision bittersweet. Pretty much anybody else will also miss the athletic Kentucky-bred on the track and lament a career that ended too soon.”