John Clay: Unconventional Russian trainer puts two to the test in Blue Grass

Hero of Order, right, with Eddie Martin Jr. up, passed jockey Rosie Napravnik on Mark Valeski to win the $1 million Louisiana Derby. Hero of Order, trained by the unorthodox Gennadi Dorochenko, won at odds of 109-1.
Hero of Order, right, with Eddie Martin Jr. up, passed jockey Rosie Napravnik on Mark Valeski to win the $1 million Louisiana Derby. Hero of Order, trained by the unorthodox Gennadi Dorochenko, won at odds of 109-1. Herald-Leader

The diminutive Russian horse trainer is looking at the man beside him as if he is crazy, or clueless, or both, or maybe he just needs to have his rear end kicked.

"If I didn't think he could win," Gennadi Dorochenko tells the visitor in a thick Russian accent, "why would I have entered him?"

Good question. Better answer.

Less than two weeks ago, April 1 to be exact, Dorochenko's 3-year-old Hero of Order went off at odds of 109-1 in the $1 million Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and hit the finish line first.

It was the colt's second victory in 14 career starts. It surprised everyone. Except Dorochenko.

"Why would I have entered him?" the Russian trainer repeats, then takes a drag off his cigarette.

Next question.

It's Friday morning, the day before the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Dorochenko has entered Hero of Order in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Derby prep at Keeneland, even though the 3-year-old isn't even nominated for the Triple Crown.

The supplemental fee for the Kentucky Derby is $200,000. Even then, fewer than 20 qualifying entries from nominated horses would have to enter to make way for a supplemental. That's not going to happen.

So why enter Hero of Order in a race so soon after the Louisiana Derby?

"We'll see how good he is," answers Dorochenko. "We'll see."

The 53-year-old former jockey is a shade over 5 feet tall. His hair is gray. His demeanor is tough, confident, maybe a bit defiant.

He said he got his start in the horse business at age 3. He was a jockey in Russia. He came to the United States in 1993 "with nothing," he said. When his riding career failed to fire, he took up training.

Asked about the quality of horses in Russia, he grunts. Plenty of horses have been bought in Kentucky and shipped to Russia, he says. And, he points out, Thoroughbreds came to America from Europe first.

He has more than 100 horses in training here, including 40 at Keeneland. He would have more here if they would give him more stalls. He leases a farm in Paris. He has others in Ocala, Fla. His home base is at Arlington Park in Chicago.

His reputation is that of being a bit unorthodox. He doesn't believe in giving horses drugs. Bute, Lasix, that's it. He didn't give horses in Russia drugs, he's not about to do it here. Plus, he doesn't believe in workouts.

"I believe in workouts," he corrects. "When the horse needs to work."

He doesn't believe in timed workouts just for the sake of timed workouts. He doesn't believe in appeasing owners for no reason. They don't pay you for workouts. They pay you when you win races.

"I work the horse to condition," he said. "Condition."

Most of what he believes goes back to his days as a jockey. He likes to work his horses himself, he said.

"If I look at that car over there and say how it is; it's better if I drive it and see how it is," he said.

There have been problems in his past. The Daily Racing Form reported that in 2007 Dorochenko spent 77 days in jail and 210 days under home electronic detention for protecting his son, who had allegedly fled the U.S. to avoid prosecution for a murder. Gennadi Dorochenko was placed on probation for three years before his training license was reinstated in 2010.

Unable to train, he became a buyer for Raut LLC. He started with cheaper horses but has inched up the economic ladder. He purchased North Stream for Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial president of Chechnya. North Stream won the 2010 Russian Derby.

According to the Racing Form, since 2009, Dorochenko has purchased more horses at Keeneland auctions than any other buyer.

He would like to win the Kentucky Derby and is running a second horse, California Derby winner Russian Greek, in the Blue Grass, for just that purpose.

Russian Greek may not be ready, he admitted, but you never know. The horse has talent. The trainer will take a chance.

After all, who thought Hero of Order would win the Louisiana Derby?

Dorochenko did.

Can he win the Blue Grass?

"We'll see," said the trainer, this time his blue eyes twinkling. "We'll see."

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