William K. (Bill) Warren Jr., has a unique perspective of this year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He knows what it’s like to have a top horse trained by Rick Dutrow. Not only that, but to have a top horse trained by Dutrow that has foot problems.
Warren raced Saint Liam, who under Dutrow’s care was the 2005 Horse of the Year. Now, Warren, in a classic case of how in racing you are rooting for a guy in one race and against him in another, is trying to deny Dutrow’s Big Brown from becoming a Triple Crown winner.
Warren is the owner of Denis of Cork, who is trained by David Carroll and is one of nine horse that will try to spring the upset in the June 7 Belmont. In racing for more than 20 years, Warren lives in Tulsa, Okla., where he is the chairman of the board of Warren American Oil Co.
In this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Denis of Cork ran third, but Warren said as happy as he was with that finish, he was bothered by the breakdown suffered by the filly Eight Belles and the emotional turmoil it would cause owner Rick Porter, trainer Larry Jones and his wife, Cindy, and jockey Gabriel Saez.
In a sport known for extreme highs and lows, Warren experienced it with Saint Liam, who had a successful racing career but after standing his first season at stud at Lane’s End Farm, fell in August 2006 while being led to his paddock and had to be euthanized because of a fractured leg that was beyond repair.
"I was in California when Will (Farish, owner of Lane’s End) called," Warren recalled the morning of June 5 while watching Denis of Cork get his morning bath. "I was in shock. I just melted on the phone. I was so stunned by it all.
"For two months, I didn’t want any part of racing."
Told that Jones was currently the leading trainer at Delaware Park, with many of his horses ridden by Saez, and that Porter owned some of the barn’s recent winners, Warren smiled and said, "That is good news. That group needed some winners after what happened."
Warren’s hope is to continue the memory of Saint Liam with one of the offspring from his lone crop, which are now yearlings. He owns five Saint Liam colts and one filly, all preparing for their racing careers with Junior Serna in Florida.
"I will not sell any of them. I want to race them and hope to continue the legacy," he said.
As for Denis of Cork, Warren admits he made a mistake by insisting Carroll run the colt in the Illinois Derby (gr. II) rather than the Wood Memorial (gr. I), a move that backfired when the son of Harlan’s Holiday ran fifth at Hawthorne.
"Going to Chicago was entirely my fault," Warren said. "I spent too much time working back on the calendar from the Derby. It was the Wood or the Illinois Derby. War Pass was running in the Wood and I thought the Illinois Derby would be an easy win and we would get the earnings we needed for the Derby."
Denis of Cork ran fifth in the Illinois Derby, and was sitting on the outside for the Derby by earnings, but got in when Behindatthebar’s connections withdrew him from consideration.
"We were lucky to get in, but were thrilled with how well he ran," Warren said. "Big Brown is a great horse."
Still, Warren, like the other owners with horses in the Belmont, have their sights set on upsetting Big Brown.
"My emotions before Big Brown goes for the Triple Crown are that we are here to win," he said. "It’s a competitive business. We’re not thinking about Big Brown. Winning this race is what we’re here to do."