Just Rewards - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the June 15, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell Breaking the 35-year Triple Crown drought would have been special, no doubt, but the Thoroughbred racing community still got a deeply satisfying series—three classic winners bred, raised, owned, trained, and ridden by an impressive collection of the sport’s most venerable members.

The victories by Orb in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Oxbow in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) represent more than 440 years of combined experience in racing and breeding.

One hundred and fifty-nine years of hard knocks and patience brought Orb (by Malibu Moon) to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. Any involvement with Thoroughbreds requires a commitment to the long view, which is certainly the tack taken by owner/breeders and first cousins Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps and Stuart Janney III. Phipps, 72, was raised in the business, having spent every summer of his life at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (with the exception of World War II) and grew up talking horses with his father, Ogden Phipps, and grandmother Gladys Livingston Mills Phipps. Janney, 64, also had been exposed to racing throughout his life but became a hands-on player in 1988 when he took over his parents’ racing and breeding operation. Trainer Shug McGaughey, 62, started as a groom for Frank Whiteley in 1967 then took out his own trainer’s license 34 years ago. The young gun on this team is jockey Joel Rosario, 28, who entered a Dominican Republic jockey school at age 12 and began riding in the United States in 2001. Rosario is currently the leading North American rider by wins and earnings.

Oxbow’s win in the Preakness rewarded 120 years of experience earned largely by master trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 77, and renaissance rider Gary Stevens, 50. Lukas parlayed 10 years of success running Quarter Horses into a Thoroughbred racing career that has now spanned 35 years. In the Preakness, Lukas broke a tie with “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons to become the leading trainer by number of classic wins with 14. Stevens was 8 when he began working as a groom for his father and trainer, Ron, and by 14 was riding in races. Stevens rode his first mounts for Lukas in 1985. Oxbow was bred by Colts Neck Stables’ Richard Santulli, 69, who has been involved with Thoroughbred racing for 28 years as an owner and a director for the New York Racing Association and Breeders’ Cup. The Awesome Again colt is raced by billionaire Brad Kelley, 57, who has raced as Bluegrass Hall since at least 2009 and now races in the name of Calumet Farm, which he took over ownership and management of in 2012. Oxbow doesn’t get credit for Calumet’s preeminent racing history dating back to 1932, but Kelley certainly deserves all the credit for bringing Calumet’s name and tradition back to prominence.

Palace Malice’s Belmont victory added another 162 years to the cumulative experiences behind the classic winners. Breeder William S. Farish, 74, leads a deep list of veterans associated with the son of Curlin. Farish, who founded Lane’s End Farm in 1979, bought his first racing prospect at the 1963 Keeneland September yearling sale. He raced his first stakes winner, Kaskaskia, in 1967. Lane’s End has gone on to sell seven Belmont Stakes winners through its sale consignments and bred four of them. Cot Campbell, 85, manages the Dogwood Stable partnership that owns Palace Malice. The father of racing partnerships, Campbell has been involved in racing for more than 40 years. His first exposure to racing was through his father, who bought a farm in Tennessee in 1940 and built a training track on it. When Campbell attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1942, he said he was hooked for life. Jockey Mike Smith, 47, has been riding since he was 16. Smith set a North American record with 62 single-season stakes wins in 1993 then broke the record the following year with 68. He got sidelined for more than six months by a broken back in 1998 and relocated to the West Coast where his riding career was reborn. And, finally, trainer Todd Pletcher, 45, is another raised in a racing family. He started walking hots at age 7 and now owns five titles as the nation’s leading trainer. Campbell was among Pletcher’s first clients when he went out on his own in 1995.

These stalwarts behind the classic winners have more than paid their dues in a sport where success can be so frustratingly elusive, and their persistence, dedication, and hard work have been richly rewarded.

But, watch out, because next year they’ll be back to try again. As Lukas said prior to the Derby: “Whenever someone mentions ‘comeback,’ I tell them that I never left.”

7 Comments

Leave a Comment:

datflippinrabbit

All those years put together to achieve the three winners this year cannot compare to the look on Todd Pletchers face at the end of the Brooklyn.Myself personally have never seen anything like it,i literally fell out of my office chair crying with laughter when the cameras swung over to him,priceless.

11 Jun 2013 6:29 PM
datflippinrabbit

To get back on track,yes it's alot of history involved and nice see three different teams get a slice of the pie.But this bunch looks ordinary but competitive among themselves,54 for the last half is really walking for this level not even the closers had a say,can you see any of them beating Fort Larned Wise Dan etc?

11 Jun 2013 6:36 PM
Old Old Cat

Feel good wins for deserving race industry families.

11 Jun 2013 7:22 PM
Agnes

Thanks for a great article.  It's wonderful to read about all the history behind this year's Triple Crown winners. Watching Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice continue to race against each other will make this an exciting year.

12 Jun 2013 10:43 AM
kincsem

datflippinrabbit,

Amen on Pletcher in the Brooklyn! And what a shock, that a bunch of milers stumble home in 54 in the only 12 furlong outing they will ever face. Meanwhile, it takes Darley to keep at least some possibilities for Animal Kingdom's stud career here at home. We need a BIG change in this dying sport.

12 Jun 2013 8:37 PM
Soldier Course

The title of this article brought something to mind. "Just Rewards". While not on topic with this article, I think everyone here should take a minute to reflect:

I think it's time for Ron Turcotte to receive an Eclipse Award. I was shocked to realize that this never happened. The year Ron rode Secretariat to his Triple Crown victory, Laffit Pincay Jr. received the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey, something he did a total of five times (in '71, '73, '74, '79, and '85). Pincay also received a Special Eclipse Award in 1999. Lucien Laurin received the Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer in 1972. There's something unjust about the way Ron Turcotte has been passed over by the Eclipse Awards. While it is true that Ron was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1979, this other, this glaring omission, needs to be made right.

There is an Eclipse "Special Award" that is presented to worthy individuals who have made noteworthy contributions to Thoroughbred racing. Ron Turcotte did that 40 years ago, and he continues to do that today, showing up each year during the Triple Crown series to meet the fans and share his stories. He deserves an Eclipse Award.

17 Jun 2013 2:57 PM
KG

Very good point, Mr. Mitchell. I was disappointed not to see a Triple Crown winner this year, but I did notice that the horses who won were fine examples of racing tradition handed down from generations. They had experienced trainers and riders who guided them to victory, making the teams almost invincible. In a way, the Triple Crown was won this year, only by three different horses that made each race as unpredictable as possible. If we see more horses on the tracks like Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice, with the pedigrees, power, speed, endurance, and historical ties to match, we will hopefully see a Triple Crown champion in the near future.

19 Jun 2013 12:33 PM

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