Jerry Crawford of Donegal thanks Dullahan for his Blue Grass victory.

Jerry Crawford of Donegal thanks Dullahan for his Blue Grass victory.

Coady Photography/Keeneland

Donegal Prepares for Another Derby Experience

Jerry Crawford, head of Donegal Racing, is excited about Dullahan's chances.

When the Irish invade, you know it’s going to be pretty wild. When the Irish invade from Iowa of all places, well, who knows what to expect?

With a name like Donegal Racing, you know the partners and their friends and family members will converge on Churchill Downs with all kinds of Celtic references on their person, whether they are Irish or not.

Donegal, headed by Jerry Crawford, has been down this road before with Paddy O'Prado, who finished third in the 2010 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But they went into that year’s Derby with mainly hope.

This year, with Dullahan, they go in with high expectations, especially after the half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird captured last week’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) in such impressive fashion, establishing himself as one of leading contenders.

“He has what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby, mainly that acceleration to get himself out of trouble and to go through tight holes as fast as he did in the Blue Grass,” trainer Dale Romans said on a national teleconference. Romans also trained Paddy O’Prado.

“I felt at the three-eighths pole he had a chance if he got through. Then at the quarter-pole when he did get through and had only a couple of horses to split I thought we’re not going to be any worse than second. Then when he exploded and went past Hansen the way he did it was an unbelievable feeling. I was so proud of him."

This time around, Crawford is well-prepared to handle the Derby experience.

“The first time you’re in the Kentucky Derby, you really don’t know what’s coming at you,” he said. “This year, we’ve heard from over 500 people just in Iowa who want to be present. We have a very big partnership to start with. The big thing is to organize things so that everyone has a great time.

"People in the grocery story and drug store and on the street corner come up to me, and not one person asks, ‘How’s your horse doing?’ It’s either, ‘How’s our horse doing’ or ‘how’s my horse doing?’ Frankly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this is the way Iowa had adopted it. This isn’t exactly everyday stuff here, although we’re doing a good job moving in that direction.”

Crawford became involved in starting his own partnerships in 2008 after having belonged to several other partnerships.

“I had studied equine genetics very carefully with an eye toward handicapping the classic races,” Crawford said. “Then in 2008, I thought, ‘Why not use this same formula I was using genetically to try and buy Triple Crown horses?’ But that year the market just fell apart and I went down to the sales hoping to buy just a couple of horses.

"But with that same money I was prepared to spend I was able to buy eight, one of them being Paddy O’Prado. So I came home and told some of friends what happened and said to them if they want to form a partnership, great, if they don’t I’d be happy to race these horses myself. They were all excited about it.

“Having been in other partnerships, I know what it’s like to be in on two or three horses and it’s another horse who becomes the big horse and you’re not involved. The way we do it, we have one partnership a year, and if you’re a partner you own part of every single racehorse that year. This way if we have a big horse, as we have two of the first three years, you’re in on him."

Crawford was fortunate to get Dullahan at the Keeneland September yearling sale, especially for what he considered a bargain price of $250,000.

“Some people wanted him in Book 1, because they thought he was as fine a physical specimen as there was,” Crawford said. “But other people said, ‘Yeah, but he’s an Even The Score .’ I think if he had been in Book 1 we may not have ended up with him, because with that kind of attention he could have been a $500,000 yearling. I would have to say we were pleased to get him for $250,000.”

So, here they are again, on the threshold of another Derby experience, something that Crawford and Donegal take great pride in achieving. It is being able to share this kind of experience that in many ways is the most important aspect of the Donegal operation.

“I don’t think there is anything more special in life than experiences we share with family and friends,” Crawford said. “And it becomes even more special when you stir in these incredible horses and the way people are drawn to them and fall in love with them. It’s all about creating experiences for the people you care most about in your life, as we have with Donegal Racing.”