On Kentucky Derby day, no sun shined brightly. Instead, it was a dark and rainy day, but there was an Orb who shined nonetheless. That was a dark bay colt gleaming with water and streaked with mud from the sloppy Churchill Downs surface.
The fire within that lit the Derby winner's eyes, that powered the remarkable stroke of his stride, is part of a legacy from his famed forebears, which include classic winners A.P. Indy (Belmont Stakes) and Unbridled (Kentucky Derby).
The Derby winner's pedigree is part of a long history of dedication to Thoroughbred breeding and racing that can be read in the Paulick Report's owner-breeder story and to the continuing search to find the best bloodstock and breed the best racehorses.
Part of that tradition is Claiborne Farm, which has raised Thoroughbreds for the Phippses and Janneys for decades. Claiborne also stood Bold Reasoning, a grandson of the Phipps family's great stallion Bold Ruler. In the first year of his brief career at stud, Bold Reasoning became the sire of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, the sire of Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, who was bred by Will Farish in partnership and stood his entire stud career at Farish's Lane's End Farm, where the grand old stallion still resides.
Now pensioned, A.P. Indy has proven a landmark stallion, both because of his individual accomplishments as a sire and because he has been a major force in reviving Claiborne's greatest male line of Nasrullah and Bold Ruler and putting it again on the pinnacle of American breeding.
With Princess of Sylmar winning the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and Orb succeeding in the Derby, the A.P. Indy male line won both classics. This is the glittering hallmark of quality that has made the A.P. Indy male line the preeminent source of classic ability in North America.
The sire of Princess of Sylmar is Coolmore's Majestic Warrior, a son of A.P. Indy whose first foals are 3 and who stands at the operation's Ashford Stud outside Versailles, Ky. The Kentucky Derby winner is by Malibu Moon, a thoroughly proven son of A.P. Indy who stands at Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm north of Lexington.
Bred and raced by Hughes, Malibu Moon showed exceptional speed and precocity, winning a 5-furlong maiden special before injury sent him into retirement. He had shown such speed that he found a spot at stud in Maryland at the Pons family's Country Life Farm. After the success of his first two crops to race, including champion juvenile Declan's Moon, Malibu Moon moved to Kentucky, and his star has risen year after year.
Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift, noted that the high class and natural ability of the stock by Malibu Moon have continued to elevate the stallion's status, crop after crop, and the stallion's stud fee has risen in similar fashion. From 11 crops of racing age, Malibu Moon has 67 stakes winners to date.
This season, Malibu Moon has a book of about 150 mares, and one of them is Lady Liberty, the dam of Orb, and a daughter of Unbridled.
Toffey said, “I like the mating that produced Orb because it incorporates some of the suggestions that I've made to breeders, that they look to add scope and try to lighten up the resulting foal. That's what I see in Orb. He's a good-sized, strong horse, but he's not what I'd call heavy.”
In physical type, Orb clearly takes a good deal from his dam and her celebrated sire Unbridled, a truly big horse with tremendous scope and bone. He was a stakes winner at 2, then improved out of sight at 3 under the handling of trainer Carl Nafzger, winning the Kentucky Derby, finishing second to Summer Squall in the Preakness, and winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in the fall.
As a stallion, Unbridled exceeded even what he proved on the racetrack.
At stud, Unbridled sired the winners of all three Triple Crown races: Grindstone (Kentucky Derby), Red Bullet (Preakness), and Empire Maker (Belmont Stakes). The stallion also sired winners of many other G1 races, including multiple Breeders' Cup victors, and now, as the broodmare sire of Orb, Unbridled has added a second classic to add to Preakness victory by Shackleford (by Forestry out of the Unbridled mare Oatsee).
Unbridled, representing a strain of Mr. Prospector that is essentially classic, is out of a mare by the important French-bred stallion Le Fabuleux. After early success at stud in France, Le Fabuleux was imported to Kentucky to stand at Claiborne in the 1960s by A.B. “Bull” Hancock Jr., and one of the shareholders in that syndicate and consistent supporters of the stallion was Ogden Phipps, the father of Orb's co-breeder and -owner, Dinny Phipps.
Among the most successful breeders to use Le Fabuleux was Tartan Farms, which bred Unbridled and sold him at the Tartan Farms dispersal to Frances Genter, who raced the colt, then retired him to stud at Gainesway Farm.
When Unbridled hit the brass ring with a first crop that included Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone and major winner and sire Unbridled's Song, overseas interests came calling with the intent to purchase and potentially export Unbridled.
A group led by Rich Santulli thwarted that effort, buying a controlling interest in the horse and sending him to spend the rest of his career at Claiborne, where he sired Lady Liberty, the dam of Orb.
With his performance last Saturday, Orb glittered with a hard, gemlike flame that reflected the time, tradition, and generations of commitment that produced him.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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