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Long, long, long shot

Local owner gets rare chance at second Kentucky Derby win

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It has, by far, the biggest fields and the biggest crowds that a thoroughbred will ever see in the course of its racing lifetime.

And at a mile-and-a-quarter, the Kentucky Derby is also the longest race the 19 horses in this afternoon's 140th renewal have ever run -- and, for many, ever will run.

All of which is to say that running in Louisville on the first Saturday in May is both unique and incredibly difficult, at least as much about lottery and luck as it is speed and stride.

It's for those reasons and many, many more that even some of the sport's all-time greats -- Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, nine-time Breeders' Cup winning rider Corey Nakatani and even the greatest of them all, Man o' War -- won just about all you could win in long and distinguished careers, except for the blanket of roses that will go to the winner of today's Race 11 at Churchill Downs.

So why the long setup to this story? Because you need all that context to fully appreciate how freakishly weird it is a guy from Winnipeg is an 8-1 shot and two minutes away from winning his second Kentucky Derby in three years.

Meet Ray Bouchard, the longest of long shots.

"There is maybe a handful of stables in the racing world that invest enough money that they'd have a shot at winning the Derby twice in three years," he said this week from Louisville, where he's gathered with two other partners from Winnipeg to watch the horse they partly own -- Danza -- run in today's big race.

"But even for a big stable to win the Derby twice in three years is highly improbable. So for a guy from Winnipeg like me to be involved in two different syndicates and have a chance to do it -- those are very high odds.

"But you know, it's horse racing and anything can happen. And my gut tells me, Danza is going to run another big race on Saturday. Whether it's going to be good enough, I don't know."

Bouchard knows all about being good enough to win on Derby day. In 2011, he owned just under a five per cent stake in Animal Kingdom, which broke from the gate at odds of 20-1, got a clean trip around the track from jockey John Velazquez and then picked up the pieces late, passing three horses in late stretch to post a stunning 23/4-length victory.

For Bouchard, it was a once-in-lifetime moment -- or so he thought. A partner in the local farm equipment dealership, Enns Brothers, Bouchard had long dabbled in owning horses at Assiniboia Downs, but had only been investing in racing syndicates -- conglomerations of people from all over the world who pool their money and buy groups of horses -- for a few years when Animal Kingdom won the roses.

Bouchard basked in the moment. He got replicas made of the ring and trophy that goes to the Derby winner and bought the one and only original painting that was commissioned of the race -- all of it, he figured, to commemorate what would always be his greatest triumph in horse racing.

Except that maybe it wasn't -- maybe that apex moment will come today with Danza. For starters, there are similarities between Bouchard's two horses: like Animal Kingdom, Danza is not a pre-race favorite at 8-1. And like Animal Kingdom, Danza is expected to be coming late and from off-the-pace, just as he did last month in a stunning come-from-behind win in the Arkansas Derby at odds of 41-1.

Bouchard and three friends from Winnipeg -- Grant Sissons, Pat Beavis and Don Rempel -- own a five per cent stake in Danza through their partnership, TNT, which was formed in 2011 after Bouchard's big win with Animal Kingdom.

The initials stand for True North Thoroughbreds -- a fond wink to the ownership of the Winnipeg Jets -- and the four men, who all work in the local agriculture industry, have horses they own that run at Assiniboia Downs, in addition to smaller shares in American -- and even South African -- based horses.

The group's had some international success already -- they had a horse, In Lingerie, run in the Breeders' Cup a couple years ago -- but Danza is the one they've been waiting for ever since they purchased their interest in him as a yearling two years ago.

"(Trainer) Todd Pletcher and his father were the ones that got us into this horse," Rempel recalled this week. "They saw value in him right off the bat. The potential was always there -- that this horse is special.

"Everyone once in a long while, you get a horse like that -- where you just know there's something special about him. He just needed an opportunity to show himself -- and he did that in the Arkansas Derby."

Rempel is the only member of TNT who remained behind in Winnipeg to watch today's race on TV. Bouchard, Sissons and Beavis flew down to Louisville earlier this week and are hoping later today to make the "walk-over" with Danza from the barn to the paddock just prior to the Derby.

"It will be pretty special," said Bouchard. "I've already been here once and got to go the highest level. So this time, I'm really trying to take in a little more of the experience.

"I'm hoping it will happen again -- for my partners, of course. But also for me. It's kind of neat."

Neat would not begin to describe a guy from Winnipeg winning the Kentucky Derby twice in three years.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 C4

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