Joe Torre in Derby picture with Homeboykris
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Joe Torre simply couldn’t hold back the smile.
Standing on the backside at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager hardly looked tired hours after watching his team lose up the road in Cincinnati.
The Kentucky Derby has a way of giving owners a second wind.
A decidedly upbeat Torre spent a little time with Derby hopeful Homeboykris after the 3-year-old gelding – whom Torre co-owns – breezed six furlongs under Julien Leparoux in 1 minute, 14.8 seconds.
Homeboykris will likely be a long shot when the Derby field is set next Wednesday. He’s struggled since a win in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont last October and is 20th on the graded stakes earnings list, the line for a horse to get in the Derby.
Not that it matters to Torre.
“Just taking part of the Derby is pretty special and who the hell knows what’s going to happen,” he said.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., who won the Derby and Preakness two years ago with Big Brown and will saddle Homeboykris in the Run for the Roses on May 1, couldn’t help but laugh while watching his friend delight in the atmosphere.
“He’s ready, he’s very excited,” Dutrow said of Torre. “You can tell he loved this.”
Torre was reintroduced to racing while managing the Yankees. Bench coach Don Zimmer talked Torre into making a minor investment in a horse. They doubled their money and Torre was hooked.
He’s dabbled in the game since, though this is his first Derby. He co-owned promising 2-year-old Vineyard Haven with trainer Bobby Frankel and others in 2008, but the horse was sold to Godolphin Racing that fall for $12 million.
The move made business sense. But don’t expect Torre and the rest of the ownership group for Homeboykris to part with the horse before Derby day.
He won’t be able to attend the race – the Dodgers will host Pittsburgh on May 1 – but he’ll have no problem flipping the channel on the clubhouse television to the Derby before the first pitch.
While some of his players will participate in their annual Derby pool, Torre will take the year off.
“I’m going to have to just beg off this time,” he said. “The only horse I want to root for is this one.”
A win, however unlikely it may seem for a horse that hasn’t run since finishing second in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 27, would help Torre tick off an item on his “bucket list.”
Torre thinks the Derby trophy would look nice alongside all of his World Series rings. It’s a passion he gleaned from former boss George Steinbrenner. The Yankees owner made several attempts to win the Derby, but never finished better than fifth.
“This is something that stands the test of time,” Torre said. “The Kentucky Derby is the Kentucky Derby. You can do all kinds of other things but this seems to be the Oscar.”
If Homeboykris wins, consider him a nominee for “Best Upset.”
Dutrow says he thought he “hit the jackpot” when the gelding won the Champagne with a thrilling move in midstretch.
That move has been missing in his last three starts. He finished fifth in both the Remsen and the Holy Bull before getting up late for second in the allowance race.
Dutrow opted to rest the horse instead of sending him back out before the Derby. It’s a strategy that worked when the horse entered his barn last summer, when a three-month layoff ended with a triumph in the Champagne.
“We’re just going with that same kind of setup and hope that it works,” Dutrow said. “We know we don’t have the horse to beat, but we’re trying everything we know and can to have our horse run a big race.”
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