‘Laughing’ His Way to the Derby With Orb?
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has now trained as many as five generations of horses bred by the Phipps family since coming on the job in November 1985, including the highly-productive offspring of Hall of Fame filly Personal Ensign.
McGaughey guided the daughter of the Phipps’ stallion Private Account through an unbeaten career of 13 starts, climaxed by her thrilling victory over Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Winning Colors in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs in 1988.
In the case of Stuart Janney III’s homebred Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby hopeful, Orb, McGaughey is only responsible for the development of her first two dams, Lady Liberty and Mesabi Maiden, although he has connections to that black-type family of stakes runners going back to Orb’s fifth dam, Laughter.
Orb is a bay colt by Malibu Moon out of Lady Liberty, by Unbridled, and has won his last three starts, most recently the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23, rallying from next-to-last in the 1 1/16-mile test. Orb shipped into McGaughey’s Payson Park-based division for the winter after breaking his maiden going a mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 24 by two lengths in his fourth career start.
“I did not predict anything like what has happened since we got down here,” McGaughey said. “He’s made such great strides. I’ve been just flabbergasted with the way he has developed."
As for Orb’s first two dams that he trained, McGaughey recalled, “Lady Liberty was a nice filly, but we just couldn’t get it done for her to win a stakes race. She just didn’t have the closing kick like Orb. Mesabi Maiden was a good filly and won the Black Eyed Susan Stakes on a muddy track and placed in several other Graded stakes.”
Laughter was a 3-year-old of 1970 and won four of 12 starts for Hall of Fame trainer Frank Y. Whiteley, Jr. Laughter was bred and raced by Janney’s parents in their red and white colors under the stable name Locust Hill Farm, the same colors Orb will carry in the Florida Derby.
Two years after Laughter was foaled, her three-quarters sister Ruffian was born and went on to her legendary, ill-fated career in 1974-75. Laughter was left to carry on for the sisters’ family as a broodmare.
Laughter’s 1985 colt was named Private Terms. Trained by Charlie Hadry, Private Terms raced undefeated in his first six starts, including the Wood Memorial (G1). But he was never a factor in the 1988 Kentucky Derby.
Laughter’s 1986 filly foal named Laughing Look was un-raced but made her name as a broodmare. Her 1995 colt, Coronado’s Quest, was developed by McGaughey for Janney in 1998 to be a major player in the 3-year-old division that season. Coronado’s Quest was impressive winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, but his connections passed on the Kentucky Derby.
Coronado’s Quest was pointed to the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico. After post positions were drawn, he was installed the 6-to-5 morning line favorite, only to be scratched by McGaughey.
“He was off behind and had a bruised foot," said McGaughey, who went on to saddle Coronado's Quest for major victories in the Haskell and Travers.
Janney’s great aunt, Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, had won the Preakness with Bold Ruler in 1957 for trainer ‘Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons on the way to Horse of the Year honors. His uncle, Ogden Phipps, bred and raced two colts that finished second in the Kentucky Derby. Dapper Dan was runner-up to Lucky Debonair in 1965. And then there were the highs and lows during the career of Easy Goer.
The son of Alydar was a 3-year-old in 1989 after winning the Eclipse Award in a 2-year-old season that concluded with a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) over a ‘muddy’ Churchill Downs track. The Juvenile gave a strong message of just how Easy Goer felt about mud and the Churchill Downs racetrack, as he finished second again to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby.
“They ran the race in 2:05 and the track was kind of greasy and he just didn’t handle it," McGaughey said. "He came back and ran a good race when he got beat a nose by Sunday Silence in the Preakness and then won the Belmont so impressively.
“These races (Triple Crown events) are very important to me and to them (Phipps and Janney families), but not just to run in them. We’ll only go with the right kind of horse with a chance,” McGaughey said. “Orb doesn’t necessarily have to win the Florida Derby to go to Kentucky, but he has to run the right kind of race.”
By Jack Will
Photos: Coglianese Photos