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A true rarity: Iowa ownership of a Kentucky Derby horse
Iowa, you have a horse in this Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
And it went from being just another pretty face in a probable 20-horse field to someone who caused a stir at Louisville's Churchill Downs last Friday.
Paddy O'Prado is the horse's name. It ran five furlongs in 58.4 seconds Friday, the fastest of all of the 21 workouts at the track that day. The horse's trainer, Dale Romans, described the run as “pretty spectacular.”
“He created some absolute pandemonium,” said Jerry Crawford, a Des Moines attorney and the lead partner in Donegal Racing, which consists of nine Iowans and a Bostonian.
Crawford believes Blumin Affair, which finished third in 1994, is the only other Iowa-owned horse to ever run in the Derby.
The back story:
“I've been around horse racing a long, long time,” Crawford said by phone from Louisville this weekend. “I bought my first horse in 1975, a $2,500 claimer at Ak-Sar-Ben (the now-defunct Omaha racetrack).”
In late summer of 2008, Crawford went to a horse auction at the Keeneland track, just outside of Lexington, Ky
“The economy had crashed, and prices plummeted,” Crawford said. “I bought eight colts that were bred to run classic distance, a mile-and-a-quarter. Most horses can't run that. I got eight horses for what would have only bought one or two the year before.”
He sought to form a partnership group called Derby Dreams, but was ready to go it alone if he couldn't find others to join in the venture. “Before long,” he said, “all our shares were sold out, and we had our first crop of 3-year-olds.”
Paddy O'Prado has run five times this year, with a win, two seconds and two thirds. The horse earned enough money in graded stakes events to earn a spot in the Derby.
“It's pretty amazing,” Crawford said. “Maybe more amazing, four of our eight horses have run in graded stakes races.”
He said his Derby horse was “a skinny, gawky teenage boy” as a yearling.
“But you could just see if he filled out the right way he could be a big, powerful racehorse, and that's exactly what happened.”
Crawford also owns the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League. Owning a D-League team is fun for a sports enthusiast.
Having a horse in the Kentucky Derby is otherworldly.
“It might sound trite,” Crawford said, “but this is my lifelong dream. Getting a horse into the Kentucky Derby is a dream come true.
“The owners of the horses in the race get to walk them from the barn around the racetrack to the paddock for their saddling in front of 150,000 people. No matter what happens in the race, I know that walk will be a highlight.
“I can die a happy man. It's that big a deal to me.”
But the week leading up to that walk will be pretty special, too.
“I'm focusing on enjoying every single minute,” said Crawford. “There are social events every single night from Sunday on. I'll just enjoy the journey.”
You think there might be a few people at Prairie Meadows putting a couple of bucks on Paddy O'Prado this Saturday? Why not? He's Iowa's horse, after all.