Maryland's Janney shuns limelight, even with Derby favorite Orb

Owner rarely enters Triple Crown races, choosing to let his horses mature

  • Stuart Janney of Butler is co-owner of Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite Orb.
Stuart Janney of Butler is co-owner of Kentucky Derby morning-line… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
May 01, 2013|By Chris Korman, The Baltimore Sun

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — — When his first Kentucky Derby horse, Orb, was named the favorite Wednesday, Stuart S. Janney the III was not there to raise his hands triumphantly for the cameras.

He won't be in Louisville at all in the days leading to the race. A short phone call with his trainer each day is all the northern Baltimore County resident requires. The rest, he'd rather avoid.

"There's a lot of silliness that happens this week," he said Monday. "And I've got paperwork to catch up on."

Janney is instead in New York, where he spends much of his time at the 5th Avenue headquarters of the Bessemer Trust, the wealth management firm of which he is the chairman. Despite his life-long association with the highest levels of horse racing — his family has been breeding and racing horses since the late 19th century, and the Butler native was 29th in earnings among owners last year — Janney has never had a horse entered in the Kentucky Derby.

Orb, which drew the No. 16 post and was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite, could become the second horse with Maryland ties to win the Derby in the past three years, as Animal Kingdom, a colt trained by Graham Motion out of Fair Hill, won in 2011.

Janney and his cousin and sometimes stable partner, Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, make for the sort of narrative those around horse racing crave in the days leading up to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. Theirs is a tale of dedication to the sport, marked with affiliations to the greatest horses of the era but lacking that signature win in the races that make up the Triple Crown and captivate a broad audience.

Here is their chance, finally, after striving for so long.

Only, that story does not hold.

The combined Phipps and Janney families have raced thousands of horses without directing many toward running the long distances early in their 3-year-old years that the Triple Crown requires.

Instead, they have tried to allow their homebred colts and fillies to mature slowly and run in the important late summer and fall races leading up to the Breeders' Cup.

"Honestly, I think the push for the Triple Crown does a lot of harm," Janney said Monday in Baltimore. "It takes a really exceptional horse to even run in those races at that age. But there's so much focus on it that, I think, trainers and owners push the horses and maybe miss little injuries, or don't see that a horse isn't going the way he needs to."

Such caution and appreciation of the long view seems to fit the Janney that business partners and friends know.

"I think Stuart really loves the detail of it," said Josh Pons, the Bel Air breeder who along with his brother owns a quarter of Malibu Moon, Orb's sire. "He loves planning it out over years and years and being patient and watching it come to fruition."

If the product of that work happens to be a horse who is good enough — who is truly ready — for the Kentucky Derby, Janney said, he'll let the horse take him where he needs to go.

Orb dragged him.

The son of a down-on-her-luck mare and a sire that some of the Kentucky establishment still had doubts about, he failed to break from the gate in his first race — and then nearly caught the winner of the race.

He's only gotten better.

"That's probably the first time I realized that he was the sort of horse who could handle it," Janney said. "He's that special case."

A horse family

Janney has served since 2008 as the chairman of the national Jockey Club's thoroughbred safety committee. Equine protection has become the main focus of his work with the national body and the New York Racing Association's board of directors.

That shouldn't be a surprise. Orb's family lines run back to Ruffian, a filly bred by Janney's parents out of the Phipps' top stallion, Secretariat sire Bold Ruler.

Ruffian won her first 10 races, setting new records in eight stakes. She was euthanized in July 1975 after shattering her right foreleg in a nationally televised match race with that year's Kentucky Derby winner.

That shook the family of long-time horsemen. Janney had taken his then girlfriend Lynn and now wife of nearly 38 years — they met in college when Janney asked to see her notes from a class and she said no — to Ruffian's final race to introduce her to the sport.

"It was just devastating," she said. "I remember clear as day the way Ruffian put her head on [trainer] Frank Whiteley's shoulder, and then going to wait for word from the vets."

Janney's father and grandfather were integral members of the Maryland Racing Commission, and his father won the Maryland Hunt Cup four times.

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