Living the Dream with Lion Heart

What it means to have a talented 3-year-old make the gate on the first Saturday in May varies dramatically depending on the person. For 29-year-old Tom Nachel, the groom for leading Kentucky Derby (gr. I) candidate Lion Heart, his Derby dream has almost as much to do with his family as the unique horse he spends every day with.

Nachel is a third-generation racetracker whose grandfather was a jockey and whose six aunts and uncles, as well as both paternal grandparents, at one time all were employed at Santa Anita. Nachel's parents, Tom and Candy, raised their young family away from the track, but the sabbatical didn't last long. Thanks to a gift horse named Swifterthanthewind in 1991, an inexpensive but productive claimer, his father was back at the track, caring for the family's Tin Tan Stables colorbearer while at the same time assuring his son would be bitten by the horseracing bug.

But only owning horses failed to calm the younger Nachel's increasing craving to train on his own. Lengthy stints working at various California Thoroughbred farms and a trip through horseshoeing school wasn't enough, so with his family's blessing, he was off for his very own racetrack education. Some call it longing, but the Nachels prefer to think it's got more to do with genetics.

Nachel noticed Lion Heart was special from the minute he walked into trainer Patrick Biancone's barn looking for a job at Saratoga last summer. His Derby dream started when the chestnut son of Tale of the Cat won the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) by six lengths in record time. The realization that he was embarking on a journey reserved for precious few finally hit him when the colt won the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) by more than three lengths under little more than a hand ride.

"I was just happy with the Prevue win," Nachel said. "But then he won the Futurity and now he may run in the Kentucky Derby. That's almost overwhelming. "

Nachel spends nearly all day every day in the barn, learning the training game from Biancone, who he refers to as, "an amazing horseman," and closely watching over his "Big Horse." He frequently calls home to share his unique experiences with his supportive family and enjoying every hard-worked minute.

"I'd someday like to train good horses for the big races and the large events," Nachel said. "But if I never get this chance on my own, at least I get to experience it with Lion Heart. It really is a family dream."