Derby Diary: It's a Wrap


Sean Shay, Gabriella Calderon, Jon and Michelle Green at the Derby | courtesy Jon Green


“That's it, time to go home.” – Unnamed Churchill Downs usher, at approximately 7:15 pm EST.

I let those words pass through me after watching our horse Helium run his eyeballs out for over nine of the 10 furlongs, in arguably the most important races of his (and my) career.

A few minutes prior I felt like I was living in an alternate universe. I was so excited when Julien Leparoux guided Helium out of the starting gate to sit a mere 2-3 lengths off the eventual winner, Medina Spirit, cruising the first four furlongs in about 47 seconds. Helium sat chilly for another three furlongs until Two-Year-Old Champion Essential Quality loomed outside of him, when Julien had to ask for more from our colt. To my amazement, Helium initially surged forwardly with that rival and heading into the top of the stretch, it looked as if our boy was in real striking distance of the leaders. At that point I was so laser focused on our maroon and white silks that it seemed as if time was slowing down, even if I could feel the adrenaline in my veins surging. For a few more moments, I honestly thought that Helium was going to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby.

And just like that, all the weeks of planning, strategizing, organizing, corresponding, talking, interviewing, packing, traveling, and handicapping washed away as Helium faded to an eighth-place finish.

Of course, there are many silver linings to this story–first and foremost is that we actually ran a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Helium improved as a racehorse and showed that he can compete with some of the most talented three-year-olds in the country.

So, despite not hitting the board in Saturday's race, I am pleased to report that I did manage to cross some bucket-list Items off my list.

  • Successfully managed a horse into the Kentucky Derby.
  • Spent quality time with my family and friends.
  • Received countless emails, texts and direct messages from well-wishers. I cannot thank you all enough for that.
  • Inspected and evaluated our 2020 and 2021 foal crops.
  • Made the fabled pre-Derby pilgrimage from the barn area to the paddock with my father and best friend.

On the flight home from the Kentucky Derby, I couldn't help thinking that emotional hangovers are worse than physical ones. When you consume a bit too much alcohol, you can drink tons of water, throw down a few Advil and even make yourself regurgitate in order to rid yourself of any toxins. But it will take a longer period of time to purge myself of the internal questions about how we could have given Helium a better chance to place in the Derby. This certainly was a great learning experience, and one that I will never forget.

Final thought: I realize how special it is to have one of this year's Kentucky Derby entrants and really tried to embrace every moment of it. I want to thank Sue Finley and everyone at the TDN for providing me with the opportunity to share my inner thoughts with you. And as the Churchill Downs usher so eloquently put it: “That's it, time to go home.”


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