There is no doubt which horse former Johnstown resident Kathleen Sands Martin and her husband, Greg, will be cheering for in the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. - Commanding Curve.
The Martins are co-owners of Commanding Curve as part of West Point Thoroughbreds.
The Dallas Stewart-trained colt is listed at 50-1 in the morning line odds and will go from post 17 with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan up.
Exercise rider Emerson Chavez takes Kentucky Derby hopeful Commanding Curve for a morning workout at Churchill Downs Tuesday in Louisville, Ky. (The Associated Press)
Kathleen Sands Martin and Greg Martin. (Photo submitted)
"It is a good thing I don't bite my nails, because it has been a wild ride," Martin said. "We were the last horse to qualify for the Derby. To get into the Derby, it goes by points. After the Louisiana Derby we were 19th, so that got us into the Derby. Then there were two more races and we dropped to 22nd and then up to 21, and stayed at 21 until last Sunday. When Ring Weekend withdrew because of a fever, we moved up to 20 and into the Derby."
Kathleen got the news last Sunday, while in Johnstown to attend the funeral of her aunt, Josephine Rovazzini.
"Every day I would get up and check online the contenders for the Kentucky Derby, and every day we were 21st," she said. "I was up in Johnstown this past weekend for my aunt's funeral and my brother Tommy called me and said we were in the Kentucky Derby. I didn't believe him. I waited a while, then went on the Kentucky Derby website, went all the way down and there we were, No. 20."
The Martins' journey to the Kentucky Derby began with Kathleen reading an ad in the newspaper.
"I worked for and retired from General Electric," Kathleen said. "Funny Cide had won the derby in 2003, but in 2005 I saw an ad in the paper in Rochester saying, 'Do you want to learn more about and get involved in thoroughbred racing? Call this number.' So I did. I talked to a gentleman - Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stables. I decided I was going to do it. I didn't tell my husband but went to the bank, got the money and got all the paperwork signed. Then I said, 'Greg, by the way, we are in the thoroughbred racing industry.' He said 'What?' and we have been doing it ever since. Now he loves it as much, if not more, than I do."
The Martins enjoyed success with Sackatoga Stables, including a trip to the Saratoga Race Course Winner's Circle, but were looking to expand their horizons.
"We were involved with Sackatoga Stables and [trainer] Barclay Tagg runs most of his horses on the turf, and I wanted a dirt horse," Kathleen said. "I heard about West Point Thoroughbreds, so I called them up and talked to Jeff Lifson and he sent me all the data."
The partnership in Command Curve is a bit different than the other horses the Martins have been partners in.
"We had an option of different horses we could get into depending on the percentage we were looking at. I saw Commanding Curve and once again I didn't tell my husband, but I did do one nice thing; all the other horses were in my name so I put Community Curve in Greg's name. I picked him but Greg is listed as the owner on paper."
Commanding Curve ran his first race at Saratoga Springs last year Aug. 30 in the pouring rain and finished sixth.
"He does not like mud," Kathleen said. "So we are hoping for no rain Saturday."
Commanding Curve shipped to Churchill Downs and hit the board in his next three starts, breaking his maiden on Nov. 30 in a 1-1/16th mile event with Bridgmohan up.
Commanding Curve entered the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, La., and finished sixth. However, his run in the Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby on March 29 earned him enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
"We got our points at the Louisiana Derby," Kathleen said. "He got pinched back at the start and was last most of the race, but blew it out at the top of the stretch and just missed getting up for second. Those were all the points we needed to qualify for the Derby."
Kathleen said that drawing the 17th post and being listed at 50-1 does not dampen her enthusiasm.
"The announcer said that nobody has won from that post position in 140 years of the derby," she said. "But, you know what, you have to be in it to win it, and we are in it. It will be an interesting race, and there is a first time for everything."
Kathleen said she and Greg will be attending Friday's races at Churchill Downs to watch Stewart's entry in the Kentucky Oaks, Unbridled Forever. But she is most looking forward to Saturday.
"Saturday is our day," she said. "At four o'clock we all will meet for the walk-in. So I am keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't rain, but I am walking in regardless."
No matter where Commanding Curve finishes, Kathleen is proud to look back at the journey.
"It is definitely a Cinderella story," she said. "Who would ever have thought this could happen. Even though I have lived all over, Johnstown is my home. I grew up on Wells Street in the West End, so it looks like a Westender makes good."