LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No race embodies tradition like the Kentucky Derby, and its 139th winner is old school all the way. Orb, bred and owned by two cousins whose racing heritage dates to the 1920s, was raised at Claiborne Farm, the Bluegrass country's most venerable thoroughbred nursery.
No one in the family of Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps and Stuart Janney III had ever won the Derby, and neither had trainer Shug McGaughey. None of the three has a Preakness trophy, but Orb's surge from 17th on the backstretch to dominate by 2 1/2 lengths will make him a heavy favorite May 18 at Pimlico.
As impressive as Orb was Saturday in the slop at Churchill Downs, McGaughey believes he hasn't shown his best yet. "I still think there's more there," he said. "I don't think we've bottomed out. I think he's still learning how to run a little bit."
Joel Rosario, the country's hottest rider, is just as confident.
"I know he's the kind of horse that keeps going," Rosario said, "and he can catch the horses in front really quick."
Only three colts that Orb crushed -- Oxbow (sixth), Will Take Charge (eighth) and Goldencents (17th) -- are definite for the Preakness. Trainer Eddie Plesa said Itsmyluckyday (15th) is "60-40" to run, and Tom Amoss called Mylute (fifth) "a very strong possibility."
Of Todd Pletcher's five also-rans, Revolutionary (third) and Overanalyze (11th) will await the Belmont Stakes on June 8, while the futures of the previously undefeated Verrazano (14th), Charming Kitten (ninth) and Palace Malice (12th) are undetermined. Pletcher said Verrazano didn't handle the track and suffered an abrasion on his left hind leg. "It isn't that serious and I don't think it was why he ran the way he did," Pletcher said. "We'll step back with him and make a plan at some point."
Trainer Dallas Stewart (Golden Soul, second) said he's leaning toward skipping the Preakness. Chad Brown (Normandy Invasion, fourth) said, "I don't know what our next move will be."
McGaughey, a native Kentuckian, spent much of his life fantasizing about a Derby victory. Janney, 64, was born in Baltimore and would be just as thrilled to win his hometown's classic. "The Preakness is important to me," Janney said. "I grew up around it, went there all the time."
Phipps, 72, who lives in Palm Beach, Fla., was born in New York City and has longtime family ties to Long Island. His paternal grandmother, Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, won the 1957 Preakness with Bold Ruler. His father, Ogden Phipps, and McGaughey won the 1989 Belmont with Easy Goer.
McGaughey is renowned for his patience, but Sunday morning he admitted thinking about pulling off the first Triple Crown sweep since Affirmed in 1978.
"Obviously, I have," he said before taking Orb to his Belmont Park base. "I'm looking forward to getting the process going again, seeing what happens and going from there."