Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A piece of Derby history

Winnipegger part-owner of newest equine star Animal Kingdom

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If Animal Kingdom could have given a post-race speech after besting the field at last weekend's Kentucky Derby, he may have given a shout out to Winnipeg.

That's because one of his owners, Ray Bouchard, is from the Manitoba capital. Since getting the bug four decades ago during trips to Assiniboia Downs with his father, Marcel, Bouchard has slowly increased his portfolio of horse investments.

The partner at Winnipeg-based farm equipment dealer, Enns Brothers, owns a two to five per cent stake in Team Valor International, the racing syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom.

"I'm in the only Canadian guy in the group," he said.

Bouchard has come a long way since he would convince his dad to place $2 bets for him when he was eight years old. While he was still in his late-teens, he and a group of his buddies got together and claimed their first horse, named Finonalad, for $2,000. The horse won his second race for them and racing was quickly taken to a new level for Bouchard.

"Ever since then, I've been hooked on racing and the thrill of the race," he said. "I've always raced at the Downs and loved watching the horses, having a beer and talking about why my horse did or didn't win a $3,000 race."

Over the last four years, he has bought various shares in different horses offered by Team Valor. One ran in the Preakness three years ago, two have run in the Breeders' Cup and another in the Dubai World Cup.

"I realized that with not that big of an investment, you can participate in a thoroughbred that can run at the most elite levels around the world. The only way you can participate at that level from my perspective is through syndicated partnerships. It can be a minimal investment but you can still have the full experience," he said, politely declining to give financial specifics.

Winning the Derby -- known as the most-exciting two minutes in sports -- is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of his horseracing experience. Bouchard said nobody knows how much the prized horse is currently worth but a small share in him was sold for $2 million shortly before the Derby.

"His value will depend on how he performs in other Triple Crown races," he said.

Animal Kingdom had karma going for it, Bouchard believes. When he told his taxi driver in Lexington last Wednesday that jockey Robby Albarado would be riding the 20-to-1 long shot, the cabbie scoffed that Albarado is so unlucky, the horse didn't have a chance.

A few hours later, his wife, Debra, heard a radio report about a jockey who fell off a horse, was stepped on and suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations. It was Albarado.

Two days later, another horse, Uncle Moe, was scratched from the race because of intestinal problems. Hours later, Uncle Moe's jockey, John Velazquez, had been seconded to ride Animal Kingdom.

"My first thought was, 'I can't believe this.' But the stars were aligned. We needed a whole bunch of racing luck. The horse had a perfect trip and the jockey rode him phenomenally," he said.

Bouchard said he woke up Sunday morning wondering if the whole thing was for real. While he was ecstatic to share the victory with Debra, his only regret was that his father wasn't there as well. Marcel Bouchard died several years ago.

"I'm sure he was screaming just as loud as we were up in heaven," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2011 C6

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