Barn 25, tucked away in the far corner of Churchill Downs' backstretch near a road, can be a pretty lonely place. Tuesday morning was no different. A lone security guard stood protecting the horses from nobody. Trainer Keith Desormeaux held the reins as a groom washed one horse off.
Three young women watched, asking if it was Kentucky Derby runner My Boy Jack.
"Nope, he's done for the day, he's sleeping," Desormeaux said.
They scurried off, the security guard disappeared, the groom left, and Desormeaux was left to walk the horse around the shedrow before returning outside and doubling the population to two.
"I hope this isn't indicative of our chances in the race, one lonely reporter," Desormeaux said with a smile. "Any support helps."
Desormeaux doesn't really need any help. Even though his stable is very small by comparison, around 25 to 30 horses, it's his third straight trip to the Kentucky Derby.
Two years ago, he finished second and then went on to win the Preakness Stakes with Exaggerator. Last year he had Sonneteer, who finished 16th.
My Boy Jack seems overlooked at 30-1 on the morning line but he is generating some buzz among some race observers. He's ranked 10th in a couple of national polls and second in the weekly poll done by Jon White for The Times.
The Santa Anita-based colt is the most experienced in the Derby, having run 10 times. He won three of those races including the Grade 3 Risen Star and Lexington Stakes. He was on the lower end of the bubble to make the Derby field, so Desormeaux ran him in the Lexington three weeks ago, where he earned enough points to make the race.
"If I had my training preference I wouldn't have run him in the last race but … I wasn't going to come here and wait all week long to hope we had two defections" so he could get the final spot, Desormeaux said. "I adjusted his training and used that race as a building block towards the Derby and I think I have the fittest horse in the race."
My Boy Jack was supposed to qualify in the Louisiana Derby, three weeks before the Lexington. But he made a big move before flattening out in the stretch to finish third. Desormeaux, filled with his usual candor swaddled in a Louisiana Cajun accent, put the blame squarely on his brother—Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux.
"You don't have to be a racing genius to know that was a bad trip," Keith Desormeaux said. "It was the speed of his advance. He went way too fast from the 3/8th pole to the quarter pole. That's what compromised his finish. Kent knew as soon as the race was over that he could have done better. It wasn't one of his Hall of Fame performances. Good thing we had enough time to regroup."
And that's what they did. The colt confidently rallied in deep stretch to win the Lexington by a head.
It's a pretty good accomplishment considering Desormeaux bought the colt for $20,000 for his good friend Kirk Godby of Don't Tell My Wife Stables.
Desormeaux isn't surprised by the colt's success.
"It doesn't matter if I pay $5,000 or $500,000," Desormeaux said. "You have to have the most lofty goals because most of the time, those horses don't reach those goals and you end up with just a horse. I would prefer to have those lofty expectations when I buy, than just have expectations of mediocrity."
Godby also wasn't surprised his bargain purchase is in the Kentucky Derby.
"I've known [Keith] for 25 years and I know how good he is as a horseman," Godby said. "If he's buying me horses, we've always got a shot. He's the one that makes it all happen."
The Lexington was the first time Godby stood in the winner's circle as an owner.
"The curse is now broken," Godby said.
But he had been there many times before as the stable manager for Matt Bryan's Big Chief Racing. Bryan, also a partner in the horse, is Desormeaux's biggest client and was the principal owner when Exaggerator made his Triple Crown run.
In 2010, Godby decided he wanted to get in on the ownership side of things.
"Some colleagues of mine kept having these conference calls to finalize the making of an LLC," Godby said. "Every time we would end the call, one guy would say, 'Jeez, just don't tell my wife. She's going to freakin' kill me.' And we're only putting up like $800 so we could claim a horse. After four or five of those we said, 'You know what? That's got to be the name of the stable.'"
Barn 25 is likely to be a little more lively as the week progresses. Godby said 13 of the 14 partners in Don't Tell My Wife Stables will be here for Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Monomoy Stables and West Point Thoroughbreds also have a piece of the horse.
"We're going to have 66 people all told here rooting for our horse on Saturday," Godby said.
If My Boy Jack wins, they're going to need a bigger winner's circle.