Racing's first family enjoying new title: Kentucky Derby winner
Daisy Phipps Pulito stood in Churchill Downs' soggy winner's circle holding a bouquet of roses, her hair soaked, her heart overflowing. Orb, a colt bred and owned by her father, Ogden Mills "Dinny'' Phipps, and his cousin, Stuart Janney III, had just won the Kentucky Derby, a first for American racing's first family.
She looked at her beaming father. "I knew just what my dad was thinking,'' Pulito said. " 'I did it. I got it.' ''
Her younger brother, Ogden Phipps II, was there shaking a fist in triumph. "Our family has had a lot of great accomplishments in the sport going back many generations,'' he said. "Winning the Derby hasn't been the most important thing to us, but it was always in the back of everyone's mind.''
Despite breeding 21 champions, the Derby's solid-gold trophy had eluded the Phippses since Old Westbury resident Gladys Mills Phipps (1883-1970) and her brother, Ogden Mills, founded Wheatley Stable in 1926. Wheatley bred and raced seven champions, including Bold Ruler, winner of the 1957 Preakness and the sire of Secretariat. But Wheatley's blue bloods went 0-for-7 in the Run for the Roses, and Gladys' son Ogden Phipps (1908-2002) never won it, either. Ogden was immune to Derby fever, trying only three times, with two seconds, including Easy Goer in 1989. Orb was only the second try for Dinny, 72.
"Even though we always say we won't go to the Derby unless we have a horse we think can win,'' Pulito said, "if we had never won it, it would have been a blot on our record.''
Pulito, 40, grew up in Old Westbury with Ogden II, 35, and their sisters Lilly Phipps Cardwell, 41, a Texas resident, and Samantha Phipps Alvarez, 38, of California. All attended The Green Vale School in Old Brookville before boarding school and college. Pulito moved in 2006 to Lexington, Ky., where she lives with her husband, David, and their two young sons. Ogden II and his wife, Ashley, live in Old Brookville with their two girls and a boy.
Pulito was asked what it was like to be born into such a distinguished racing clan.
"We grew up in it, and I think we always knew what was going on,'' she said. "I guess we each probably figured it out when we were about 12. The family would go to Saratoga for four weeks every summer, and that's where most of the memories are from.''
Not since the New York-bred gelding Funny Cide (2003) and Smarty Jones, Philadelphia's working-class hero (2004), has a Derby victory produced such a "feel good'' vibe. Those horses were seen as underdogs, while Orb is a four-legged aristocrat whose distant relatives include all-time greats Native Dancer and Ruffian. His bloodlines can be traced 80 years through Phipps-breds.
"We've always built our stable through our fillies and our broodmare band,'' Phipps II said. "It's a tremendous source of pride that we've done it all from within, if you will, and I think it makes it that much sweeter for us. I hope we can do that for many more generations.''
The Phipps fortune originated with Dinny's great-grandfather, Henry Phipps Jr., a partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. In 1907, Henry Phipps created the Bessemer Trust, a wealth-management firm in which Janney succeeded Dinny Phipps as chairman. Ogden Phipps II is a founding partner of Snow Phipps, a Manhattan-based private equity fund.
With other American racing dynasties such as Calumet Farm, the Vanderbilts and Greentree Stable long gone, the Phippses are the last of the line of those for whom the sport, not the money, is paramount.
Facing no pressure to show a profit, they treat thoroughbreds the old-fashioned way, allowing them to develop at their own pace. They hired Shug McGaughey in December 1985. After the Derby, Janney, 64, saluted the 62-year-old Hall of Famer, saying, "I think this is a time to reflect on how lucky we are to have a terrific trainer who has done everything the right way with this horse.''
Former jockey Richard Migliore, an HRTV analyst, said, "This Derby is satisfying on so many levels because of the connections.''
Pulito suggested another reason. "After the race it was so touching to hear all the nice things being said about my family,'' she said. "And I think part of it is that people are sick and tired of seeing horses win Triple Crown races and then having the trainers constantly asked about drugs.''
That's what happened with Doug O'Neill last year while I'll Have Another was taking the Derby and Preakness. Rick Dutrow, now serving a 10-year suspension, was grilled in 2008 before and after Big Brown's Triple Crown bid failed at Belmont Park. Scrutiny of their medication violations overshadowed attempts to make history. That won't happen if Orb wins Saturday.
Pulito said she's "excited, not really nervous,'' about what will happen at Pimlico.
"In the weeks leading up to the Derby, there was an odd calm going on,'' she said. "Everybody's feeling was that we're going to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. I feel a little bit the same way going into the Preakness -- one step at a time, one day at a time.''