VERSAILLES — Like most Thoroughbred horse breeders, George Brunacini always dreamed of winning the Kentucky Derby.
When Brunacini was killed on Aug. 27, 2006, in the crash of Com air Flight 5191 in Lexington, friends consoled his son, Angelo: "If only he had had more time, he would have done it. That's how he was: so tenacious. So determined."
But Angelo had to correct them on one thing: "In my eulogy, I said, 'You are wrong. He was a breeder. He can still do it.'"
Saturday, at Three Chimneys Farm, looking at Flower Alley, the horse his father planned and created in 2001, the horse that went on to sire Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, who runs Saturday in the Belmont, Brunacini smiled.
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"We imagined too small. We had no idea he could have a chance to breed the sire of a Triple Crown winner."
So Angelo Brunacini brought his wife, Lisa, and their children — 13-year-old George (named for his grandfather), and 11-year-old Lillian — to visit Flower Alley, to see what their grandfather accomplished.
Although his real estate and construction interests were in New Mexico, George Brunacini's heart was in the Bluegrass. In 1996, he bought 200 acres in Georgetown and established Bona Terra Farm. In 2001, he bred his mare Princess Olivia to Distorted Humor, in whom he owned a share. Brunacini sold the resulting colt as a weanling for $50,000 in the 2002 Keeneland November sale.
Flower Alley went on to win the 2005 Travers Stakes for Eugene Melnyk. On the strength of that win, Brunacini sold Princess Olivia for $825,000 at the 2005 Keeneland November sale.
Weeks before the plane crash, Brunacini was still selling horses at the top end of the market in Saratoga. The next year, Flower Alley started his stud career and began fulfilling Brunacini's legacy in ways his family couldn't have imagined.
In Albuquerque, N.M., where they live, the Triple Crown is ... well, not quite on the radar the way it is in Kentucky.
Asked if she knows what the Triple Crown is, Lillian said, "I know it's a big race." Actually, it's three big races, and I'll Have Another has already won two of them.
If he wins the third ... Lillian's eyes grew round: "He'll be famous! That would be awesome!"
Angelo Brunacini said some family members plan on being at Belmont to see the race, but he isn't sure that's where he wants to be. He may need more sky than that to let out everything he might be feeling.
"If he wins, I think I'd rather be alone. It's going to be pretty exciting," Brunacini said. "I'm so proud of my dad. Not that many sons can say their father was the breeder of a sire of a Triple Crown winner, or even a Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner. Even just that is so special."
His grandkids were so young when George Brunacini died, Angelo said. They say they remember him, but he isn't sure how much they really do. Maybe they just know him from photos.
So Angelo Brunacini brought them to Three Chimneys for a picture of them with Flower Alley and a memory they won't forget.
And maybe after Saturday, they'll have another.