Opportunity of a lifetime

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Stuart S. Janney III needed convincing at one point in his life whether getting involved in Thoroughbred racing was the right thing to do. He got some advice from one of racing’s most successful and respected individuals who just happened to be his uncle, Ogden Phipps, and got involved.

Janney’s enjoyed plenty of success in racing through the years, campaigning such standouts as Coronado’s Quest, Data Link, Carriage Trail, Air Support, Hunting, and many more. Now he comes to the doorstep of history with Orb, winner of the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and morning-line favorite for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Orb is campaigned in partnership with Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, Janney’s cousin and chairman of the Jockey Club who carries on the family’s longstanding tradition of success at the highest levels of racing. Orb, a colt by Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, was bred in partnership by Janney and Phipps Stable. Like every other good runner to come from those programs, he was bred on advice from Claiborne Farm’s Seth Hancock and raised at the same Paris, Kentucky, farm that was also the first home to nearly every other Phipps or Janney standout. Names like Bold Ruler, Easy Goer, Buckpasser, Personal Ensign, Inside Information, Heavenly Prize, Point of Entry.

Orb will try to do what no other runner who carried either the Phipps family’s black and cherry silks or Janney’s red and white colors-the same colors his parents used when they campaigned the great Ruffian-and win America’s great race.

Janney recently spent some time with Mike Penn and Kurt Becker of the Horse Racing Radio Network to talk about the Kentucky Derby, his family, relationships with trainer Shug McGaughey, and other thrills associated with Orb

Horse Racing Radio Network: Thanks for joining us, when will you get to Louisville?
Stuart Janney: I’m coming in a little after lunch on Saturday.

HRRN: You’re going to get here that late?
I don’t find being around the racetrack before a big race makes the time go any quicker. I’m running Hymn Book in the Alysheba on Friday. I would have loved to do that, but didn’t anticipate doing that and I’ve scheduled myself for other things that I couldn’t get out of.

HRRN: How exciting has the ride been with Orb?
SJ: It’s actually been a fairly quick ride. Maybe there are other times when you have other horses that are very precocious and you start to think what races they could be in. Sometime in their 2-year-old year. I don’t think that was true with Orb. We thought he was athletic, a nice horse, but that he would probably take some time into his 3-year-old year to get anywhere near his potential. Our plan was when we went to Florida, we’d give him a couple races down there on what we tend to think is a speed favoring track and it probably wouldn’t be his best opportunity but would give him some experience. Then we’d be in good position for the summer that could compete at some good level, whatever that might be. If you talk to Shug, and what I saw with less of a trained eye than his, it was pretty extraordinary how quickly he came around and grew up physically and to some extent mentally. It was a very pleasant surprise when we ended up in Fountain of Youth, which wasn’t really the plan. Then he won the Fountain of Youth and wasn’t necessarily the plan and he confirmed what a good horse he’d become in the Florida Derby.

HRRN: How surprising is it that he could be the favorite by post time?
SJ: It is surprising. If you said to me two or three months ago that that was the case I would have looked at you like you don’t know what you’re talking about. So it’s quite a spectacular path that the horse has taken. He really has taken it in the right way. He’s confirmed at every stage that he needs to go on and do something like this.

HRRN: Shug said this may be his best opportunity to win the Derby. That’s high praise considering he came here with Easy Goer. Do you agree?
SJ: Well, I didn’t come with Easy Goer. I was sitting on the sidelines expecting my uncle’s horse to win the Derby. And he was odds-on to do so. So it was disappointing when it didn’t happen. Going into that Easy Goer was as good a horse as we’ve seen in a long time. I’m pleased that Shug has confidence because he’s not the kind of person to kid himself. It’s pretty amazing we’ve gotten to this point as quickly as we have.

HRRN: Shug said he’s very close with you and the Phipps family. That’s a relationship that works well, talk about that relationship with Shug and why it’s been so successful.
SJ: It’s been a long time. Really back to the late 1980s, that I’ve been involved with Shug. Of course Dinny, that relationship [with Shug] started three or four years before that. It’s a great thing when you can be in this business with somebody that has the integrity that Shug does and the real abilities that he’s got to train horses. He completely shares what our philosophy is on what we want to accomplish and how we want to accomplish it. Over the years we’ve had a lot of success that’s entirely attributable to, well maybe not entirely because there’s Claiborne Farm and others that get very involved in our horses, but when they’re on the racetrack it comes down to Shug and his team. It’s an extraordinary group of people. Over the years he’s done a fabulous job for us and we’ve become very close. We are very good friends. As I look upon things with Orb I know how much Shug wants to win this race. He’s from Kentucky it’s something he’s never done. In some ways that’s a big part of why I’d like to win this race. To see him accomplish something he really wants to accomplish.

HRRN: If he does win it will be in your red and white colors. Talk about the history of your silks and the decision to run in your colors instead of the Phipps’.
SJ: That goes back to the original proposal that uncle Ogden made. He said, ‘Look they’ll always run in your colors. I just want to be your partner.’ Those silks obviously go back, in the public’s mind they go back to Ruffian. In my mind they go back to my father, who was a very, very good steeplechase jockey. I grew up seeing my father put those silks on and riding in the Maryland Hunt Cup and things like that. … The house was littered with pictures of him winning various races in those silks. His life was very much, get up at six o’clock in the morning and ride the horses he wanted to train for the races coming up and then go into work and practice law at 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock in the morning. So in my mind those silks go back to pictures I saw of my father winning races in the 1930s and 1940s.

HRRN: Have you allowed yourself to look ahead, to dream, of that moment of Orb crossing the finish line in front?
SJ: There is a tendency to think of what could be a good result. Then you kind of banish it and think, ‘no you don’t need to do that.’ In the horse business you do that a bit more. If you’re a golfer or a tennis player you should never try to imagine that you’re receiving the trophy because that’s just about the time your game is going to deteriorate. Fortunately owners do get to dream a bit because at the end of the day it’s the horse and the jockey, prepared by the trainer, that is going to get the job done on the day of the race. It’s really not in my hands at all.

HRRN: Thinking back to your grandmother and Bold Ruler, a lot of historians think about that crop as being one of the best ever. How satisfying is it you when you consider those great horses and what you your cousin, teaming up with Shug, could contribute to that legacy?
SJ: It’s very important. One of the things I’ve liked about this two-week period before the Derby is to the extent to how people want to talk about Orb, it’s in the context of the history of this thing. It’s been my thoughts that not any of this occurs without my grandmother, or Uncle Ogden, or without my parents. It wouldn’t occur for Dinny and it wouldn’t occur for me. You go back to my grandmother and who was advising her? Well, Bull Hancock was advising her. Who sold her Bold Irish, who she then gave to my parents? From hence Orb comes. Here we are today and who advises me on who I breed to and who tells me every week that this foal is going in the right direction and this one is not, this yearling is doing this? That’s Seth Hancock. It’s him and the people that he has around him at Claiborne. It’s really just a continuation of something that’s been going on for 70, 80 years. In lots of respects it validates what they all did. It’s great that Dinny and I get to enjoy it, but in lots of ways that’s what put us here.