Preakness reunion for Derby winner Orb, Departing
They were born five weeks apart, played together in a lush Kentucky field as yearlings and slept under one roof.
When Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Triple Crown newcomer Departing cross paths for the 138th Preakness Stakes on Saturday, there may be a slight sense of recognition.
The two 3-year-old colts were the equivalent of childhood pals growing up at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. For 10 months of their young lives, they frolicked in a 30-acre pasture and rested and ate in the same barn, Orb in stall 1 and Departing in stall 20 across the hall.
“They would have been buddies,” Claiborne barn manager Bradley Purcell said.
The horses, paddock mates from September 2010 to June 2011, eventually went their separate ways — Departing to a training center in South Carolina and Orb to Florida — but they will be reunited at Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“Who could have known?” Purcell said.
Departing, taken off the Kentucky Derby trail after a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, is expected to be one of the top contenders in the Preakness. The Illinois Derby winner is the 3-1 second-choice in the Vegas Wynn's early odds as Orb, the 7-5 favorite, tries to take another step toward ending a 35-year Triple Crown drought.
All told, at least five other returning Derby runners — including D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow (sixth) and Will Take Charge (eighth) and Doug O'Neill-trained Goldencents (17th) — and a handful of new shooters are expected to leave the gate for the 1 3⁄16-mile race.
Departing trainer Albert Stall Jr. knows his colt will need a top effort to upset Orb, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey and ridden by Joel Rosario.
“We're going in with a horse that we know is doing well and we think is a nice horse, and other than that I have no idea,” Stall said. “I mean, we plan on going in there without hesitation and running our race, and whether that's good enough to beat Orb, I have no earthly idea, but all we can do is just take care of our horse and lead him over there with confidence.”
Purcell doubts that Orb, who won the Derby by 3 1⁄2 lengths, and Departing will have any memory of each other — “They kind of forget when they are gone for that amount of time,” he said — but their playful past is another tie-in between two horses whose connections are inextricably linked.
Orb, the son of Malibu Moon, was born at Claiborne on Feb. 24, 2010. Departing, the son of War Front, hit the ground on April 1 at the 3,000-acre Bourbon County farm.
“Both of them were very straight forward,” Purcell said. “Orb was a very handsome colt. Departing was a strapping-looking horse.”
Departing is co-owned by Claiborne, of whom Orb owners Ogden Phipps and Stuart Janney III are longtime clients. Orb's co-owners have deep-rooted Pittsburgh ties. Phipps and Janney are the great-grandsons of former Pittsburgh steel and real estate magnate Henry Phipps, who donated Phipps Conservatory in Schenley Park to Pittsburgh in 1893.
Orb and Departing spent much of their first year as pasture mates only by chance. Each season the weanlings at Claiborne are divided into seven groups of 10 with their own field. Orb and Departing, along with eight other colts, just happened to be placed in the same herd. “It's a neat story,” Purcell said.
But, alas, in June 2011, the two were split up. Orb was sent to Niall Brennan Stables in Ocala, Fla., while Departing was shipped to Holly Hill Training Center in South Carolina. Strong-willed and difficult to handle as a yearling, Departing eventually was gelded.
“He was a nice horse, but it was like he had attention deficit disorder,” Holly Hill owner Jane Dunn said. “After he was gelded, it was a whole different story.”
This isn't the first time McGaughey has squared off against Claiborne in a big race. McGaughey's Seeking the Gold and Claiborne's Forty Niner were rivals in the late 1980s.
“It will be different, but it's not something that I'm not altogether not used to,” McGaughey said. “Departing is a very worthy participant in the Preakness, and, just as we do, they've got every right to be there.”