It is common for people to decorate their workspaces with photos of those to whom they are most connected. So an image of a certain bay foal on trainer Dale Romans' phone and on owner Jerry Crawford's desk reveals the bigger impact Finnegans Wake has on them than past performances reveal.
Both Romans and Crawford say the baby version of the now 5-year-old horse didn't look special. Similarly, his statistics seem unremarkable with only three wins from 21 career starts.
A harder look at Finnegans Wake's page, though, reveals a runner with career earnings of more than $605,000. He's never blown anyone away in either looks or ability. But there is something endearing about a horse who keeps finding ways to keep himself in the best of company.
"He's the only newborn photo I have on my desk. It's been here since he was born, and it's because he didn't look like he would be much," Crawford, president of Donegal Racing, said of his homebred horse. "And so that makes his success even sweeter."
When the morning line was made for Saturday's Grade I Arlington Million, Finnegans Wake was the second-longest shot in a field of seven, entered at odds of 12-1.
It would not be the strangest of outcomes, though, if the son of Powerscourt were to upset the likes of defending race winner Real Solution, Canadian champion Up With the Birds and reigning Breeders' Cup Turf winner Magician. It was over the Arlington turf that the bay horse ran second in the 2012 Grade I Secretariat Stakes, and it was on the same course last month that he finally notched his first graded stakes victory, taking the Grade III Arlington Handicap by a head over Grade I winner Admiral Kitten.
Fifteen prior times Finnegans Wake had run in graded stakes company, trying everything from dirt to turf to synthetic and back again. His last win before the Arlington Handicap came when he took a 11⁄8-mile allowance race on the turf at Churchill Downs in June 2012, but he kept picking up relatively fat checks, including for his fourth-place effort in last year's Arlington Million.
"... He kept hitting the board in graded stakes and making bigger checks than he would make winning allowance races," Crawford said. "And he kept looking like he was going to have a breakthrough race. So that (Arlington Handicap) was an emotional moment for me."
Romans cracked that when Crawford asked him to pick which stallion he should send Boat's Ghost to for the mating that would eventually produce Finnegans Wake, he picked "what's turned out to be one of the worst sires of all time in North America" in Powerscourt.
Lackluster as his impact has been in the shed, Powerscourt did win the 2005 Arlington Million, a vindication triumph considering he crossed the wire first in 2004 but was disqualified to fourth.
Not only does Finnegans Wake share his father's affinity for the Arlington surface, his Arlington Handicap win showed he had a different wrinkle to his game. Normally a runner who comes from well off the pace, Finnegans Wake sat second throughout the 11/4-mile Arlington Handicap and kept up his run despite being forced out in the lane by pacesetter Avanzare.
"We know he's going to be at a price and we know things have to go his way, but he couldn't be doing better," said Romans. "He's a neat, neat horse. I've got a picture on my phone of him two days old at the farm.
"He's not a great pedigree, and you could pick him apart on conformation and looks, but he's just a big old lug that's never had a problem. You've got to take a shot at it."
Finnegans Wake will have champion British jockey Ryan Moore in the irons.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.