Old school and old money once more rule the Triple Crown.
After a quarter century of supermarket stable trainers D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher rolling into tracks shortly before spring classics, Pimlico's stakes barn was filled four days ahead of Saturday's Preakness Stakes. Even Lukas arrived earlier than his renowned Wednesday fly-ins that ended the tradition of spending at least one week at a racetrack.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb reached Stall 40 on Tuesday, where many former Triple Crown winners once stared down the shedrow. Orb may end the sport's 35-year Triple Crown champion drought, but he has already returned the classic red silks to prominence.
Orb is bred and owned by Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable, two of the deepest blueblood families in thoroughbred racing. Indeed, Janney is a third-generation Maryland breeder/owner whose grandmother, Gladys Mills Phipps, was the grand dame of American racing with 1957 Preakness winner Bold Ruler among 90 stakes winners. Phipps' Wheatley Stable produced legendary Seabiscuit. Janney's stable produced the great filly Ruffian.
Phipps' son was Ogden Phipps, chairman of the Jockey Club and New York Racing Association founder, known most for losing a coin flip with Penny Chenery over the rights to Secretariat. Phipps produced nine champions, including Easy Goer, before his 2002 death.
The two stables began partnering in the 1980s when Stuart Janney Jr. died. Current stable managers Dinny Phipps and Stuart Janney III are cousins.
Ogden Phipps hired trainer Shug McGaughey in 1985. It was a bold move for an owner whose previous three trainers were hall of famers, including Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. McGaughey was a quiet Kentucky horseman who only walked onto a backstretch seven years earlier when taking a break from college after his Vietnam lottery number was high enough to avoid the draft.
Before TV discovered Lukas and Baffert, horsemen were much like McGaughey. They were quiet. Their barns were serene. Races weren't entered without a serious contender.
McGaughey is remindful of his role model and predecessor Charlie Whittingham in waiting years for the right Triple Crown chance. The two collided in 1989 when Whittingham's Sunday Silence beat McGaughey's Easy Goer in the Derby and Preakness, the latter voted the race of the 1980s for its final nose-to-nose half mile.
Losing those races haunted McGaughey for years, even if Easy Goer won the Belmont to deny Sunday Silence the crown. Indeed, this is McGaughey's first Preakness since that series. That he's also a hall of famer with 240 major stakes wins didn't matter until taking the Derby, though.
The old school and old money of the sport now have another champion. Maybe a Triple Crown champion.
"I'm thinking there's more there," McGaughey said. "I can't wait to see him out there."
Just like the good old days.