There’s already a fan favorite in the 4 1/2-furlong race for maidens in Thursday’s second race at Keeneland.
Snell Yeah, trained by John Ennis, is named after former University of Kentucky running back Benny Snell, who broke the school’s all-time records for rushing and career touchdowns during the 2018 season. Specifically, it’s a direct reference to Snell’s personal catchphrase tattooed across his stomach.
Co-owner Scott Stephens didn’t know his colt’s namesake would go on to set so many records or help lead the Wildcats to their first 10-win campaign in decades when he christened him a year ago. He just loves UK football — the Ashland native has been a season ticket-holder since 2004 — and the way Snell played, and wanted to recognize one of the best to ever wear blue and white.
“He’s got the best attitude,” Stephens said. “I love that kid and his personality. … You can tell he loves the game.”
Stephens, a sales manager for Allergan’s medical-use Botox division, is more of a hobbyist in the horse industry. St. Simon Place — with whom Stephens co-owns Snell Yeah — specializes in the breeding, foaling and selling of Thoroughbreds, which suits Stephens more than the actual racing.
“Racing horses, unless you’re just completely loaded, it’ll make millionaires out of billionaires,” Stephens said with a laugh. “It’s a lot of money and it’s not a big return a lot of times unless you’re doing it a lot.”
Snell Yeah, the second foal out of Joyous Music and sired by Graydar, a multiple graded stakes winner, “was such a nice yearling that we didn’t want to give him away,” said Tommy Wente — who owns St. Simon Place along with Calvin Crain and Shane Crain. So they kept him and attempted to get Stephens on board with training him to be a racehorse.
Stephens agreed, on the condition that he got to name him. He wanted to “OK” it with Snell’s parents — he’d gotten to know them through tailgating before UK home games — and once he had their blessing, took it to St. Simon. A brief misunderstanding ensued.
“Calvin’s like, ‘Who in the hell names a horse Snail, Scott? That’s slow,’” Stephens said “I had to tell him all about it and explain the spelling. I told him, if in fact we get this horse ready, it’s healthy and we can take it to the track at Keeneland, make no mistake, people are gonna freak out about this horse.”
Snell Yeah opened at 15-1 odds, sixth best in a nine-horse field. Stephens and Wente said he’s training well and has run good times in company in workouts at Keeneland, but the precociousness of 2-year-old maidens makes the effort something of a crapshoot for even racing’s most hardcore outfits, let alone those who dabble in the sport.
The group is having a good time with the experience.
“I’ve got everybody saying, ‘Well ... if he runs like Benny he’s gonna wipe the whole field out and he’s gonna get disqualified,’” Wente said with a laugh. “Everybody’s just having fun with it. It’s been cool.”
He’s reached out to Snell — who earlier this month on Twitter shared that he’d never been to a race at Keeneland — but as of Wednesday morning Stephens was uncertain if Snell would be able to take in the race live. It’s possible Snell Yeah will run at Churchill Downs next month, depending on performance and health, potentially giving fans another chance to see a Snell run one more time in Kentucky.
Stephens doesn’t know how his horse will perform, but he has a lot to live up to.
“Look how good that kid has been for this university,” Stephens said. “It’s been nothing short of fantastic. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best running back that’s ever come through Kentucky.”
And maybe the only one with a Thoroughbred to call his own.