“Like the best vacation you've ever been on,” Ribbles soaking in the Derby Trail

Honor Marie takes down the GII Jockey Club S. | Coady

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Find us a Saturday kind of horse.

That's what Kerry and Alan Ribble told Kyle Zorn over a two-hour lunch one afternoon in Lexington. The Hot Springs, Arkansas natives had traveled up to Kentucky to meet with Zorn, who was then in the midst of co-founding Legion Bloodstock, and learn what it might take for them to make a step up from the claiming game.

Now two years later they have a running joke with Zorn: Well, you didn't have to find us a first Saturday in May kind of horse!

Because depending on the outcome of Saturday's GII Risen Star S., the Ribbles might just end up with one of the leading contenders on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Honor Marie (Honor Code) already handed the couple their first graded stakes win in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. last fall, but as the Whit Beckman-trained colt prepares to make his 2024 debut this weekend, the Ribbles' excitement and anticipation for what's ahead has reached an all-time high.

Honor Marie team (including Alan and Kerry, second and third from right) celebrates the Grade II win | Coady

“We'll start talking about it and we have to stop because we get too worked up and need to do a reality check,” Kerry Ribble said with a laugh. “It's like planning for the best vacation you've ever been on. You don't sleep the night before. You're doing all this planning. It's really hard to put into words.”

Horse racing has always been woven into the Ribbles' daily life. They both grew up in Magnolia, Arkansas, where Alan's grandfather owned a barber shop. W. Cal Partee, owner of the 1992 GI Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee, was a regular there and he once named a horse after Alan's grandfather. Meanwhile Kerry's father was an avid handicapper who published a tip sheet called Inside Connection.

One of Kerry and Alan's first dates was spent attending the races at Oaklawn Park and a highlight of their honeymoon was a trip to Louisiana Downs.

“We thought that was really cool,” recalled Ribble. “We were young and in college and thought it sounded fun. And it was! But Alan has made up for what some would consider a sort-of meager outing since then.”

While Alan built his career in the oil and gas industry, Kerry worked in the education system as a teacher and school counselor.

Almost 10 years ago, Alan surprised Kerry with a horse for Christmas. Well, not an actual horse, but he put the plans in motion for them to claim a racehorse with the help of veteran conditioner David Vance.

“Our kids were telling us that this was either going to be the greatest thing ever or we were really going to go down in flames,” said Ribble. “We were such rookie horse owners, but David and his family were all so great and patient. We spent a big part of our lives for the past eight years learning from them.”

Ribble Farms has amassed over 200 starts since then, with several dozen wins earned through the claiming ranks of Arkansas and beyond.

When Vance told the couple that he was planning on retiring in 2023, they weighed their options and decided that they wanted to get involved in racing in a bigger way. That's when they got connected with the Legion Bloodstock team of Kyle Zorn, Travis Durr, Evan Ciannello and Kristian Villante.

“I think what was so cool about meeting them was that each of those guys provided something unique to the decision making and buying of the horses,” Ribble explained. “We put our complete trust in Legion because this part of it was so new to us. We had this idea that down the road, if we were going to buy a full horse it might make sense to buy one out of these partnerships.”

One of the first yearlings they got involved in early on was a $40,000 Honor Code colt, whom they were able to name after their 9-year-old granddaughter.

The Ribbles really didn't know much about trainer Whit Beckman, who received Honor Marie after he went through his early training with Durr. Then after the colt won on debut last September going six wide and getting up to win by a head at 13-1 odds, they looked up Beckman's resume and were impressed. The former assistant to Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher was just getting started on his own, opening up his stable in 2021.

“When we finally got to meet him it really sealed the deal for us because he's so much like my husband–low-key, even-tempered, and he's so knowledgeable about his business,” Ribble said.

Then she added with grin, “They're a nice balance to my high-strung personality.”

In his first try going two turns in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Honor Marie earned 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and gave both his owner and trainer their first graded stakes win.

“We were just blown away,” Ribble recalled. “I don't think we had even had an allowance win before that. Every day my husband and I look at each other and ask, 'How did we get here?' This is all new to us and we are just soaking it in.”

It didn't take long for the offers to come flying in on the newly minted Grade II winner. All along the Ribbles had planned on buying out a horse from Legion Bloodstock, and of course they were partial to this colt's name, so they bought Honor Marie outright. They hung up the phone on offers they could hardly believe for the talented bay, but did end up selling a quarter of him to a group that includes Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver and Kenneth and Daniel Fishbein.

Their only stipulation was that Honor Marie stayed with Beckman.

“With Whit's dedication and the way things are going, I would never want to move him,” Ribble explained. “We liked the idea of supporting someone who was just starting out on their own. It's sort of what Alan did in his business long ago and he still remembers the people who supported him.”

The entire crew of the Ribbles, Legion Bloodstock and Whit Beckman has a big weekend ahead.

The Ribbles made the trip to New Orleans on Friday and will be heading to Fair Grounds with a group of friends who have supported them since their early days in the claiming game. In addition to Honor Marie's start in a stacked edition of the Risen Star, the Ribbles are partners in Legion Racing's Drip (Good Magic), who makes his debut for Beckman earlier in the card on Saturday.

Beckman will also send out GIII River City S. runner-up Harlan Estate (Kantharos) in the GIII Fair Grounds S. for Graham Grace Stable.

This community aspect of their journey in racing is really what has kept the Ribbles coming back. For years they shared a close relationship with Vance and his family before his retirement and now they've found a new team to support and enjoy.

“As excited as we are for this weekend and the months ahead, I think really I am just as thrilled for Legion Bloodstock and Whit's team,” Ribble said. “This is life changing for them. They all started out on their own in the last few years and I'm thrilled for all of them.”

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