Itâ€™s an event with deep roots in agrarian times and a celebration that incorporates all of Kentuckyâ€™s grand traditions, yet some of the Kentucky Derbyâ€™s greatest days have come during the past 14 years, as instant communication, the Internet and social media have changed our lives.
With the breathtaking scope of 140 years of Derby history in mind, hereâ€™s a simple question as we head toward Kentucky Derby 141 on May 2, 2015: could there be a name more appropriate for a Derby winner in this era than Hashtag Bourbon?
His name is catchy and cute, but you would be wise to keep it in mind, because the first two races in the career of the colt owned by the Bourbon Lane Stable partnership have been promising enough to indicate that the coltâ€™s name could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If his worksheet continues to show progress, Hashtag Bourbon has a chance to become a social media sensation in the weeks prior to next yearâ€™s Run for the Roses.
The colt is a member of the first crop of runners by Super Saver, the winner of the 2010 Kentucky Derby.Â Hashtag Bourbon became his first stakes winner last weekend when the colt scored an emphatic victory in the $100,000 Mountaineer Juvenile at West Virginiaâ€™s Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort.
He rallied from sixth in the field of seven and used a quick burst of speed in the stretch to overhaul favored Gotta Get Paid on his way to a 4 Â½-length romp.Â He covered six furlongs in 1:11.45 from jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and trainer Kellyn Gorder.
Hashtag Bourbon rallied from more than 19 lengths back to finish third in his debut on June 28 at Churchill Downs. It was a strong performance in a race that looks better and strong with each passing day.
The race was the first 2-year-old maiden event of the spring at Churchill Downs and now has every indication that it was a â€œkey raceâ€ â€“ a race on uncommon strength that will yield winners throughout the coming months.Â The winner, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained first-time starter Mr. Z, came back to finish a very close second to Big Trouble in Saratogaâ€™s Grade III Sanford Stakes and runner-up Louisiana Brown was a strong runner-up in his subsequent start at Saratoga.
If his next start is an improvement over an effort in which he notched his first win again stakes rivals, the talk about Hashtag Bourbonâ€™s potential will get serious.Â He was $130,000 purchase at Floridaâ€™s Ocala Breeders Sale in March, and itâ€™s a sure bet that Bourbon Lane Stables and Gorder cellphones came to life after Saturday with offers to buy all or part of Hashtag Bourbon for totals well beyond his purchase price.
Bourbon Lane Stables is a partnership headed by managing members Michael McMahon and Jamie Hill that got its start in 2002, and most of its horsesÂ have the word â€œbourbonâ€ incorporated somewhere in their names. The partnershipâ€™s most notable success has been the 4-year-old Bourbon Courage, who won the Grade II Indiana Derby and came in third to Preakness winner Shackleford in Churchill Downsâ€™ Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare at three (GI).
Bourbon Courage has won four of 18 career races with career earnings just under the $1 million mark.
Hashtag Bourbonâ€™s next start has not been announced, but the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs is on Saturday, Sept. 6. The 1 1/16-mile race is the first of the â€œRoad to the Kentucky Derbyâ€ points system series, and it is a Breedersâ€™ Cup â€œWin and Youâ€™re Inâ€ race that guarantees the first-place finisher a spot in the starting gate for the $2 million Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
About 270 days remain until the 2015 Kentucky Derby, but itâ€™s never too early to start dreaming about the young horse that could be the one to get the job done on the first Saturday in May.
Hashtag Bourbon merits a close look in the coming weeks.Â He looks like a very good 2-year-old and has a chance â€“ again, a chance â€“ to be #sensational by the time Derby Day 2014 rolls around.
In other news, veteran Kentucky racing fans were saddened recently by the news that retired jockey Billy Phelps had died at the age of 76.
Phelps won more than 2,000 races during a long career that includes a pair of wins in Churchill Downsâ€™ Clark Handicap, two wins in the Louisville Handicap and three rides in the Kentucky Derby.Â His best finish in the Derby came in 1962, when he guided Crimson Satan, the previous yearâ€™s champion 2-year-old, to a sixth-place finish behind Hall of Famer Bill Hartack and Decidedly.
His name was familiar in racing programs at tracks throughout the Eastern U.S. His last victory at Churchill Downs came aboard Second Notion in a $10,000 claiming race on May 20, 1992.
The family requests donations in Phelpsâ€™ honor go to the Kentucky Horsemenâ€™s Benevolent and Protective Association or Christ Chapel at Churchill Downs.