Kentucky Derby

Derby owners take vastly different paths to same race

Ahmed Zayat, owner of favorite Bodemeister, has had two Derby horses finish second.
Ahmed Zayat, owner of favorite Bodemeister, has had two Derby horses finish second. Herald-Leader

Kentucky Derby horse owners come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments, from Kendall Hansen, who thought it might be fun to dye his namesake horse's tail blue, to artsy bluebloods like Union Rags' Phyllis Wyeth, whose husband, James Wyeth — like his late father, Andrew Wyeth — is an acclaimed artist who knows a thing or two about paint.

There are newcomers, such as Larry and Marianne Williams of Parma, Idaho, owners of Rousing Sermon, making what might be their only Run for the Roses.

There are also those who have been here unsuccessfully too many times to mention politely. (OK, it's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum: eight starters, no joy, not even a show finish. But this year's horse, Alpha, could change all that.)

Some owners have sipped from Derby silver before, including Prospective's John Oxley, who owned 2001 winner Monarchos; Gemologist's Kenny Troutt, whose WinStar Farm won in 2010 with Super Saver; and Daddy Long Legs' Michael Tabor, who won in 1995 with Thunder Gulch.

Or the ownership syndicate Team Valor, which won last year with Animal Kingdom and wants to make it two in a row with Went the Day Well, a feat that hasn't been achieved since Meadow Stable did it with Riva Ridge and Secretariat in the 1970s.

Some have come painfully close. Last year, Bodemeister's Ahmed Zayat watched his Nehro come in second to Animal Kingdom, just as his Pioneerof The Nile had done to Mine That Bird in 2009.

But that was better than what happened in 2010: His Eskendereya, the likely favorite, had to withdraw on the Sunday before the race with a soft-tissue injury.

Another syndicate, Donegal Racing, which owns Dullahan, nearly won in 2010 with Paddy O'Prado, who finished third.

"What I'd tell you is the best things in life are wonderful experiences we get to share with family and friends, and I didn't know I had hundreds and hundreds of family and friends until the last couple of weeks, but I do," said Jerry Crawford, leader of the Donegal clan. "But seriously, most of our partners are longtime friends. My whole family will be here. We're going to share this magnificent experience with Dullahan (pronounced DOO-la-han, by the way), who is incredible. And so, this is just as good as life could get. I wish more people understood that they can participate in this business. I know that there's a lot of billionaires and I know there are a lot of kazillionaires, but trust me, not in our group."

The path that brings people to the Kentucky Derby can be unpredictable.

Some owners made their fortunes in oil (Oxley); cut-price cigarettes (Optimizer's Brad Kelley); or bookmaking (Tabor and his partner, Derrick Smith). Others in doughnuts (Sabercat's Winchell Thoroughbreds was founded by the late Verne Winchell of Winchell's Donut House who later ran Denny's) and printed bags (Take Charge Indy's Maribeth Sandford founded Bag Makers Inc. in an Illinois dairy barn as a single mom).

I'll Have Another's Paul Reddam made his money in money: He founded mortgage loan giant Creative Cause is owned by Swiss-born Heinz Steinmann, a former champion skier at UCLA who is known as "the man who brought skiing to California." Liaison is owned by Talbots store founder Arnold Zetcher, who brought tailored pantsuits to soccer moms.

Sheikh Mohammed will come with a horse that is the product of millions in bloodstock, generations of careful breeding, all to get this one stunning homebred, Alpha, to Churchill Downs.

Then there is Shivananda Parbhoo, who owns a Florida trucking company. He bought Trinniberg on a whim last spring after catching a glimpse of the colt's backside at Ocala while making a delivery.

"I didn't even realize there was a sale going on. We walked in about 11 a.m. and were getting ready to walk out when I saw this horse," Parbhoo told the Thoroughbred Daily News last year. "We turned around, went back in, and I bought him (for $21,000). I didn't even have a catalog; I just liked his looks. ... I don't even have a checkbook with me. We went back to South Florida and I sent my worker back to Ocala with a check the next day."

Trinniberg is trained by Parbhoo's father, Bisnath Parboo, who immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago, where he was a horse trainer.

(Like Hansen, Parbhoo likes to have a little fun: He plans for Trinniberg to wear his signature red pompon on his head on Derby Day.)

No matter how their roads got them to Churchill Downs, everybody rode in on a horse.

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