The blue bloods have a good one on their hands.
Orb, bred and owned by the Phipps and Janney families, titans of American racing since the 1920s, was a deserving and impressive winner of the May 4 Kentucky Derby.
That he was the benefactor of an ideal set-up, galloping almost 20 lengths behind a torrid early pace that wiped out all the frontrunners, is immaterial. He would have won regardless. He was training better than his 18 rivals going into the Derby and then ran better than them all en route to a 2 1/2-length victory over the rain-soaked Churchill Downs track in Louisville, Kentucky.
Orb, a long, lean colt with the royal pedigree typical of a Phipps-Janney homebred, has the stamp of a horse that could sweep the Triple Crown for the first time since 1978.
His trainer, Shug McGaughey, has been raving about how the colt has been thriving for months, getting bigger, stronger and faster week after week. McGaughey was oozing that same confidence yesterday, telling reporters the horse was showing no signs of fatigue following the Derby. Orb cut a picture of perfect health, his bay coat glistening in the mid-afternoon sun, as he returned to his barn yesterday at Belmont Park in Long Island, New York.
Before the Belmont Stakes, though, comes the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on May 18.
Orb will be a prohibitive favorite in the Preakness.
Count on odds of about 4-5 (meaning you bet $5 for a chance to win $4), down from the 5-1 he paid in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The five Derby also-rans pointing to the Preakness look overmatched. Orb beat those horses, including Goldencents and Will Take Charge, by almost 20 lengths on average.
The biggest challenge that the Phipps and Janney clans -- both of which descend from Henry Phipps, the co-founder of Carnegie Steel -- may face in the Preakness is from their own business partners.
Claiborne Farm, which for decades has raised the two families’ horses, including Orb, at its Paris, Kentucky-based farm, is planning on running a colt by the name of Departing in the Preakness.
Departing, who was held out of the Kentucky Derby, has won four of five races, with his only blemish coming when he encountered traffic trouble in the Louisiana Derby. He has all the markings of a special horse in his own right.
Figure his odds will be about 7-2 in the Preakness.
It’s taken the Phipps and Janney families almost a century to capture their first Kentucky Derby, a testament to why winning the race is considered such a Holy Grail in the thoroughbred industry. Now those from within their own inner circle stand in the way as they pursue the Triple Crown.
The blue bloods meet the blue bloods in Baltimore.
(David Papadopoulos, the team leader for Latin America markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)