Kentucky Derby

Claiborne-born Orb to be tested in Preakness by Claiborne-owned Departing

Orb got a drink of water after shipping to Belmont Park following his Kentucky Derby victory.
Orb got a drink of water after shipping to Belmont Park following his Kentucky Derby victory.

One arrived on Feb. 24, 2010, the other April 1. Despite differences in their lineage, they became members of a common family the minute each hit the ground.

For many on the Claiborne Farm staff, every foal born on the grounds becomes one of their own emotionally regardless of ownership. Unique as the bond may be between horsemen and the equines in their care, there is a particular bind that forms when one pulls a foal out of its mother, watches it get its spindly legs under it and take its first steps toward fulfilling its promise.

"We take care of them all like they're our kids," said Claiborne farm manager Bradley Purcell. "This time of year we're probably with (the foals) more than our families so they are like our children."

Last Saturday, one of Claiborne's stepchildren ignited the racing world.

When said adopted son attempts to further his march this Saturday, his brethren born 36 days after him will be among his staunchest challengers.

From the end of September 2010 until June 2011, newly crowned Kentucky Derby winner Orb — owned and bred by the Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III — and Illinois Derby winner Departing — a homebred campaigned by Claiborne and longtime partner Adele Dilschneider — were paddock mates at Claiborne, having each been born at the Hancock family's renowned Paris operation.

A very public reunion is on tap this Saturday as Departing will try to derail Orb from claiming the second leg of the Triple Crown when the two make their expected starts in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

The ties linking Orb and Departing go way beyond their infantile days in the Bluegrass. For decades, the Phipps family and the Janneys have been clients of Claiborne, boarding generations of their mares at the farm with their stallions often residing on the Claiborne roster.

When the time comes for Orb to head off to stud duty, he will more than likely call Claiborne's stallion barn home. Thus, the notion that Departing could deny Orb a shot at heading to the Belmont Stakes with a chance at becoming just the 12th Triple Crown winner is one casual observers could deem awkward.

However, to the close-knit entities involved, this is just part of the sporting nature all parties have embraced.

"We were kind of pointing toward the Preakness no matter who was going to be there so, no (there was no hesitation)," said Al Stall Jr., trainer of Departing. "I've been doing this my whole life and I'm a student of a game so it does feel good to be involved in something that has so much history and tradition."

"It'll be different," said Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who trains Orb and has been the Phipps' private trainer since 1985. "But it's not something that we're not all together not used to ... and Departing is a very worthy participant."

If Orb and Departing take a cue from past instances when Phipps/Janney and Claiborne colorbearers have collided, they should uplift all those who bear witness.

Head-to-head history

On April 6, 1954, two foals were born on the same night at Claiborne with each going on to make indelible marks for their respective owners.

Bold Ruler, owned by Gladys Mills Phipps — grandmother to current Phipps Stables head Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps — would overcome his early trouble-prone ways to become Horse of the Year in 1957 before retiring to Claiborne and stamping himself as one of Thoroughbred racing's game-changing sires.

Among the rivals Bold Ruler faced during his time on the track was the colt who shared his birth date, Claiborne-bred and owned Round Table. Bull Hancock — patriarch of the Hancock clan — sold 80 percent of Round Table to Travis Kerr early in the colt's 3-year-old season, but watched both his future stallions suffer disappointment as Round Table and Bold Ruler finished third and fourth, respectively, to Iron Liege in the 1957 Kentucky Derby.

While both Bold Ruler and Round Table rebounded to put together spectacular 3-year-old campaigns, it was Bold Ruler's win over Round Table and Gallant Man in the 1957 Trenton Handicap that ultimately sealed his Horse of the Year award. The following year, Round Table solidified his future Hall of Fame status with a Horse of the Year campaign of his own before joining his former paddock mate in the Claiborne stud barn.

"Bold Ruler and Round Table were born on the same night up in that foaling barn so ... this isn't a new thing for us," said Claiborne's Dell Hancock. "And we had Seeking the Gold and Forty Niner running against each other. We go back a long way and (the Phippses and Janneys) are wonderful sportsmen and wonderful horse people who do everything the right way."

The Forty Niner-Seeking the Gold rivalry in the summer of 1988 put Claiborne's iconic orange silks and the Phipps' signature black colors with cherry red cap side by side in a battle for 3-year-old supremacy.

The two sons of Mr. Prospector who romped in shared fields as foals were even closer once maturity kicked in with Claiborne's juvenile champion Forty Niner edging McGaughey-trainee Seeking the Gold by a nose in both the Grade I Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes.

"I could very easily see that next Saturday with (Orb and Departing) coming down the lane," said Purcell, the Claiborne farm manager. "It would be a flashback to Forty Niner and Seeking the Gold. It will be an emotional roller coaster."

Patience, times two

Regardless which ends up ahead of the other this Saturday, Orb and Departing have already succeeded in elevating some well-crafted bloodlines.

Prior to foaling the current leader of the 3-year-old ranks, Orb's dam Lady Liberty was undistinguished, producing two offspring that won a total of three races and a colt by Arch who died as a yearling. Frustrated by her difficult history, Dinny Phipps wanted to sell the daughter of Unbridled before yielding to Seth Hancock's and Stuart Janney's collective hard-sell.

"Seth was very helpful in taking my side because he said, look, she's a good-looking mare, she's by (1990 Kentucky Derby winner) Unbridled ... and we need to give her more chances," Janney said.

"By far Orb was the best thing she'd had looks-wise," Purcell said. "He was very straightforward, we had no issues with him and he grew up to be a really nice colt by the time he left here in June."

The third foal out of the Pulpit mare Leave, Departing has already racked up four wins in five starts — as many victories as Leave's previous two offspring combined. His 31/4-length win in the Grade III Illinois Derby on April 20 solidified the War Front gelding's résumé.

"Departing was the same.He was a really nice foal and he, too, is probably the best that mare has had," Purcell said. "Both the owners have been patient and they've both been rewarded with two nice horses here."

While Orb and Departing carry different banners of ownership, it is the common philosophy of their intrinsically linked connections that has won out for both parties — as evidenced by the impending high-class showdown.

"Believe you me, when those horses line up on Preakness Day if they both make it there, I'll feel like we've got two in there. I really will," Dell Hancock said.

Preakness Stakes

What: Second leg of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown

When: 6:20 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Purse: $1 million

Distance: 13⁄16 miles

Possible field: Orb, Departing, Mylute, Goldencents, Govenor Charlie, Itsmyluckyday, Normandy Invasion, Oxbow, Titletown Five, Will Take Charge, Vyjack