Trainer Larry Jones and his wife and assistant, Cindy, may have found a lucky charm for one of racing’s biggest weeks. It’s a nine-month-old African grey parrot named Buddy, who is living in a room at the end of Barn 43 at Churchill Downs while the Joneses are preparing Proud Spell for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Eight Belles for the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) or the Oaks.
“If we get lucky and win both races, then Buddy will have to be at every big race from then on,” Cindy said.
Buddy is living in the barn because the Joneses’ Louisville hotel doesn’t allow pets. He doesn’t seem to mind the horses, according to Cindy, and the horses, she said, “like him; they come running up to see what he is.”
Buddy comes outside when the weather is warm, and he likes to whistle at the people he sees stopping by the barn. He won’t talk until he’s a about a year old, Cindy said, but he can do a mean wolf whistle.
Buddy was Cindy’s gift to Larry last Christmas. She found him in a New Orleans pet store on Christmas Eve.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Larry said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I made the comment once upon a time I would like to have a bird someday; I didn’t know someday was coming so soon.”
Larry named the bird Buddy because he assumed the parrot would be his buddy. But the relationship got off to a rocky start. Buddy bit Larry and drew blood.
“About a week after I had him, I thought he might be the most expensive meal I was ever going to have,” Larry said. “I figured I was going to eat the little sucker because me and him were not bonding. It just took time before he started taking to us. We were new to him, and he was new to us. I probably wasn’t helping things because every time I would come through eating a chicken sandwich or something I would tell him, ‘Oh, this is your cousin,’ or whatever, so I don’t think he was taking too kindly to my sense of humor. I had to learn, too, and I toned it down a little for him.”
Now the trainer and the bird are good friends.
“We’re doing good; we’re pretty cool,” Larry said. “When we were going from New Orleans to up here in our truck, he rode on my shoulder a big part of the way.”
Buddy isn’t the first parrot to live in a Thoroughbred stable. According to a New York Times article from 1904, a stakes winner back then named McChesney had a parrot named Dick as his companion. The bird would spend hours perching on the horse’s back. Dick, who had a bit of a salty tongue, slept on a beam high above McChesney’s stall. Early every morning, the parrot would cry out, “McChesney, McChesney, oh McChesney!”