LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Looking at him, one would think with 60 days of training, he could be ready to race and possibly compete for Horse of the Year honors. But Orb, winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby, has left racing behind for a career in the stud.
Standing at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., Orb will be bred to about 105 mares in his first season as a stallion and his fee has been set at $25,000. However, the total amount he will generate is a bit more complicated. There is a live foal guarantee attached, which means that only if the mare delivers a foal that stands and nurses will the fee be paid.
Also, Orb has been syndicated and all of the members have breeding rights relating to the number of shares they hold. The Phipps family, for whom Orb raced, has retained 40 percent and is significantly supporting the horse which placed them on the Churchill Downs presentation stand last May by sending some of their best mares to him.
“He’s made a good start,” groom John Niehaus said while holding Orb for visual examination. “He’s a big man around here. We’ve given him Secretariat’s paddock.”
In making the career transition at this relatively early stage, Orb has followed a pattern that has developed over the recent past. Of the past 14 Derby winners, nine have not raced beyond their 3-year-old season. One of these, Barbaro, was injured in the Preakness and, ultimately, could not be saved. But even removing him from the equation, 61 percent have not gone on to race as what those in the industry term “older horses.”
A prime reason for early retirement has to do with the increased number of mares constituting a stallion’s book. When Hall of Fame trainer Hirsch Jacobs retired champion Hail to Reason because of injury in 1960, he continued to manage the horse as a stallion. Jacobs limited the horse’s book to 31 mares.
In the 1980s, the magic number was 40. Now, it is not uncommon for a stallion in demand to service 150 mares in a breeding season, which runs from early February to late June. Some stallions even stand the breeding season in this country and then shuttle to Australia or South America and stand another season there, all in the same year.
Under the circumstances, a lot more money is generated, but one can only wonder what the shuttling horse thinks about all this come November when he makes his last trip of the year to the breeding shed.
Orb won’t be making the shuttle and will receive superb care at Claiborne. When in his stall, he can gaze across the shedrow at the shining bronze plaque commemorating the place of residence of Bold Ruler, Secretariat, Easy Goer and Unbridled, great racers and significant contributors to the genetic continuation of the thoroughbred race horse. Orb is expected to do likewise.
“We like everything about him,” Niehaus said. “He’ll have every chance to be top-notch. And we think he will do it.”