In two days, the cream of the three-year-old Thoroughbred crop will contest the 135th Kentucky Derby
at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
But let's go back a week or so, to another race, in another city...
Sunday, April 26. Fonner Park
race course in Grand Island, Nebraska. Seventh race
; distance 1 mile. The winner, a four-year-old named Cattle Baron, rallied on the far turn and held on for the victory at odds of 6-1. Further up the track -- 23 and 1/2 lengths up said track, to be precise -- is a six-year-old gelding by the name of River Front Times
It was more than three years ago that this newspaper plunked down $100 to reimburse local horseman Lou O'Brien
for the expense of changing the name of one of his two-year-olds, Pollys Jaybird, to River Front Times. ($100 happens to be what the Jockey Club
charges for registering a name change for a Thoroughbred.)
At the time, River Front Times had never raced, but O'Brien had high hopes for him.
The following spring, RFT made his debut at Fairmount Park
, finishing second in a five-and-a-half-furlong sprint for maiden claimers. A maiden is a horse that has yet to win a race; a claiming race is a race in which any registered horse owner is able to purchase (or, in the lingo put in a claim on) any of the entrants.
It's also the kind of contest Lou O'Brien specializes in.
River Front Times finished second in his next race, as well. The horse -- by now, technically not a horse but a gelding -- raced twelve times before ever winning, a feat he finally accomplished on March 6, 2007. (You can read more about that glorious day on this very blog, in "How River Front Times Broke His Maiden
If that seems like a career fraught with futility, maybe it is, but maybe you aren't familiar with horseracing. In the grand scheme of things, River Front Times comported himself well in his first fifteen races; he won twice, finished second six times and third once, earning a shade over $14,000.
Horseracing, though, is a tough business. After notching his third win, in August of 2007, RFT was led back to a different barn. Before the race, another horseman had claimed him. (The price was either $3,000 or $4,000; the Equibase
chart that details his career doesn't indicate which.)
River Front Times has not won again since. For a few months he raced at The Woodland, a greyhound track in Kansas City. (The track has since shut down.) Then came a move to Nebraska and the Lincoln State Fair, and then to the track in Columbus. The race at Fonner last week, RFT's first of 2009, yielded a result sadly similar to his final race of 2008, in which he also finished 23 and a half lengths behind the winner.
Lou O'Brien hasn't forgotten River Front Times.
"Hell, I've got so damn many horses I can't keep track of all of 'em," the salty-tongued horseman says. "But he was a nice little horse. A little goofy, but so am I for staying in this business."