LOUISVILLE, K. —Last September at Western Slope of Colorado, Jeff Drown went on a hunt for elk with 23-year-old director Zandon Starks.
Drown, who owns a contracting company in Minnesota, mentioned on his way back to camp that he had running horses – which Starks admitted, he knew nothing about.
“Jeff said he had an important name,” Starks said in a phone call Wednesday. The guy I work with jokingly said, ‘I doubt there never was a horse named Zandon,’ and Jeff asked if it was okay with me. I’m like, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t think anything of it. “
Horse race that needed a name seemed to be the best. And on Saturday, Zandon is due to enter the starting lineup as a favorite in the Kentucky Derby where he can make this strange name a worldwide hit.
“I live in a small town and I’m not interested, but I’ve traveled to the US and everywhere I go, no one has heard the name,” said Starks, who will be one of Drown’s guests at the race on Saturday. . “I think many have done so now.”
These are the kinds of stories that make the Kentucky Derby magical. For all the bad news of the recent game – including last year’s winner Medina Spirit did not qualify for the doping test – this competition is not the only prize for gold-plated farms by generations of Americans. Winning the best-known horses from Venezuela and New Mexico, among the elite who raise $ 17,500 together to buy a donkey that became Seattle Slew and small farms that breed a few horses a year.
And if Zandon wins on Saturday, it will be the owner who got into the game at the lowest level and still has smaller horses than the big teams and international jobs that buy expensive kids for years.
Drown and his wife, Jill, have come a long way since they started at Canterbury Park in the Twin Cities. But even so, it is surprising that his favorite Saturday 148th Kentucky Derby comes from the owners who have won just one race this year.
That victory, when Zandon came out on a difficult and crippling journey in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 9, made a surprising impression around a very fast ass – so Drown said his phone would not stop him from singing this. days and can’t walk more than a few feet around Churchill backstretch without being complimented by big names in the game.
“This (didn’t seem real) was the first horse we had,” said Drown Wednesday Zandon as he inserted another image along Churchill Road. “But as time went on and we started making a really big program, it became clear that it was really something we wanted to happen. Jill and I were talking about going to the Kentucky Derby, but I always said I didn’t want to go until we had a horse. So here we are.”
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However, Drown does a little work compared to Winchell Thoroughbreds, which has a second-choice Epicenter and has been campaigning for many professionals over the years, or a team like Starlight Racing that raises a lot of money through private groups.
Drown has done things on a small scale, with athletes who only made 21 from last year under his name and another 18 in partnership with teammate Don Rachel. But since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2019 with Structor – Drown’s biggest victory until Zandon came – interest has been on small but high numbers.
“It’s been a great team so far,” said coach Chad Brown, who is also a big part of the story as one of the few coaches in the competition who is considered to be the best in the game but has not won. Derby.
Despite only 43 years old, Brown has been in the spotlight for more than a decade with success in the 2017 Preakness and four Eclipse awards as a world-renowned coach. His biggest success came in major grass competitions, but the Kentucky Derby victory to end a legacy that his mentor and coaching legend Bobby Frankel did not live long enough to achieve.
“The last few years of working with him, Derby has been very important,” Brown said of Frankel, who finished second in the race twice before he died in 2009. And then when he was about to win the horses, it became a very important thing for him and it was the only race that kept him from getting a good job. So it could be a chance to win him over. “
And Drown would be delighted to give Brown his first Derby win.
“That’s right,” Drown said. “Obviously he’s a very good trainer, and he cares a lot about horses. If there’s a little something wrong, he goes back and sends them to the field and we give them the time they need to be healthy and happy and we just have them.
At this point, the human Zandon will take it all, not sure what Saturday will bring when he goes to his first horse race seeing his name everywhere. One of the funniest ways to connect with Derby fans is to learn a little bit about the game in the last few weeks. However, the Starks, who work as part-time hunting supervisors and on the field throughout the year, have not seen anything like 150,000 people screaming and screaming as horses gallop down two very exciting minutes of play.
“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’ve been looking for a dress code and I like it a little more than I do. But it will be a lot of fun.”