He hardly stood out in the early morning sunshine on the Churchill Downs backstretch Derby week. A mid-40s guy striding to and from the barn area behind Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopeful Stately Victor wearing a baseball cap, windbreaker, and jeans.
But co-owner Jack Conway could be one of the most famous people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky once the month of May rolls around. Not only could he and his father, Tom, own a Derby winner, Jack, currently Kentucky’s Attorney General, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by former big league hurler Jim Bunning. The Democratic primary in which Conway is involved comes May 18, with the general election to follow in November.
“I’m doing a little bit of both—campaigning and being here on the backside very early in the morning,” Conway said two days before the Derby. “This is such a special week in Kentucky, a time when the Commonwealth really puts its best foot forward. So to be able to participate in the Derby in this special way, and to do so with my dad, who’s been in the racing game now for 30 years without anything close to a Derby horse, is amazing.”
Stately Victor represents much more to the younger Conway than just his accomplishments on the racetrack. The horse was named after Jack’s best friend, Victor Perrone, who died in a car accident 18 years ago. Perrone’s family was at Churchill Downs to see Stately Victor Derby week.
“It’s been very emotional,” noted Conway. “I’ve always felt Victor’s been my guardian angel, and I’ve had a funny feeling about this horse even when he wasn’t running well. I had a feeling he was going to win a grade I race at some point.”
That point came at Keeneland when Stately Victor surged past the field in the grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, stamping his ticket to the Kentucky Derby. With wet weather in the Derby forecast Stately Victor, 30-1 on the morning line, would move up considerably, as the son of Ghostzapper out of a Dynaformer mare is bred for the slop top and bottom.
Conway said the big race is not far from his mind even when he is out campaigning around the state.
“The most interesting comment on the campaign trail,” he said, “is ‘good luck; we’re with you in both races.’ Maybe there’s an exacta out there—winning the Derby and then winning the second race May 18. That would be something.”
Conway said he’s not sleeping much because of all the invigorating action going on around him.
“That's O.K.,” he noted. “I guess I’ll sleep on May 19.”