Four Derby winners have been born in Virginia, and only Florida with six homegrown Derby winners has a better record. But, other Virginians have been to the winners circle at Churchill Downs or been affiliated with the horses that find their way there on the very famous first Saturday in May.
Now, Audley Farm-bred Bodemeister is seeking to become the fifth Virginia-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby.
That stellar group includes Triple Crown winner Secretariat (1973), Pleasant Colony (Derby and Preakness 1981), Sea Hero (1993) and Reigh Count (1928), but it leaves out other important Derby winners with Virginia connections.
Before his sophomore campaign, Kilmer’s future Hall of Fame trainer Henry McDaniel purchased a “work horse” for his Derby hopeful Sun Briar. McDaniel bought Old Bones and two other fillies in a package for $9,000, a huge price for the times and well outside Kilmer’s $700 budget.
Kilmer was never a fan of Exterminator, calling him “that Truck Horse,” and it’s not known if it was because of the huge price tag or because the future Horse of the Year was big, gangly and generally considered to be unattractive.
None the less, Exterminator went on to show up Sun Briar in morning training workouts and to beat all his rivals in a muddy run for the roses. Before Exterminator retired his jockey Willie Knapp would say, "When he was at his best, Exterminator could have beaten Man o' War or Citation or Kelso or any other horse that ever lived on any track doing anything."
Kilmer would find his way back to the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May with Virginia-bred Reigh Count who was born in the Shenandoah Valley somewhere near New Market, VA.
In 1934, Isabel Dodge Sloan of Brookmeade Farm in Upperville won the Derby with the New Jersey-bred Cavalcade. Brookmeade is now Joe Allbritton’s Lazy Lane Farm which produced 1991 Preakness winner Hansel, but before Sloan’s tenure at the Fauquier County nursery ended, she bred Belmont winner and Horse of the Year Sword Dancer who is happily ensconced in the Virginia Racing Hall of Fame.
Fast forward 32 years to 1966, when Dr. Frank O’Keefe of Pine Brook Farm bred the Kentucky Derby winner. For reasons unknown, O’Keefe decided to foal his mare Sweep in Maryland. She crossed the Potomac and delivered a colt by Native Dancer who would be named Kauai King. In addition to the Derby, Kauai King would also win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.
|SECRETARIAT (Neil Liefer/Sports Illustrated)|
Virginia’s The Meadow Stud was represented in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle in 1972 by Kentucky-bred Riva Ridge and again in 1973 by Virginia-bred Secretariat. Only two others have won back-to-back Derbies. Calumet Farm in Lexington, KY has done it twice with Ponder in 1948 and Triple Crown winner Citation in 1949 and Iron Liege in 1957 and Tim Tam in 1958. E.R. Bradley won consecutive renewals of the Kentucky Derby 1931 with Twenty Grand and 1932 with Gallant Fox. Secretariat, Citation and Gallant Fox were all Triple Crown winners.
One year after Genuine Risk’s popular victory, Thomas Mellon Evans’ Virginia-bred Pleasant Colony and his boisterous and colorful trainer Johnny Campo would capture the Derby and the Preakness only to lose the Belmont at the hands of Summing.
He would have a brilliant career at stud producing the champions Pleasant Stage, Pleasant Tap and St. Jovite. Pleasant Colony would also sire Belmont Stakes winner Colonial Affair (who was also born in Virginia.)
In 1993, Sea Hero gave Virginia breeder Paul Mellon the victory in the last major race unconquered by Mellon’s Rokeby Stables. The Upperville Virginia multi-millionaire, philanthropist and horsemen had won most of the major races in America including the Belmont Stakes as well as some important races in England and France.
The Polish Navy colt’s win in the Derby made owner-breeder Mellon the only person to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, having captured the latter two with Mill Reef in 1971. He still posthumously holds that record.
The purchase ticket was signed by John Finney, the long-time president of the Fasig-Tipton auction company that conducts the famous Saratoga yearling sales. Finney picked out the colt at the Keeneland November Mixed Sale in Lexington, KY for a final bid of $32,000. The Poulsons then entered the colt in the Saratoga Select Yearling Sale the next August where he was purchased for $150,000 – a tidy gross profit of $118,000 in a little over eight months’ time.
|GO FOR GIN|
And the name – Go For Gin?
Finney, a larger-than-life iconic character internationally famous in horse circles, was known to have a fondness for martinis, so eventual owners William Cornacchia and Tom Condren tacked on the moniker in Finney’s honor.
Perhaps the name game will be good luck for Virginia’s latest Derby candidate as Bodemeister is named after trainer Bob Baffert’s son Bode.