Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Third Time's A Charm

Could it be 2004 all over again?

Roy Chapman was a self made man who along with his wife Pat owned a chain of Ford Dealerships in the Philadelphia area. Over the years they had enjoyed modest success in racing but early in 2004 a modestly bred colt whose name was Smarty Jones took them on a fantastic journey.

Fast forward to 2007 and another self-made man named Ray Cottrell Sr.

A Vietnam vet, Ray retired after twenty four years in the Army and opened an used car lot in Brandenburg, Kentucky a small city 46 miles southwest of Louisville on the Ohio river. As the years went by this business grew and he now owns a Ford/Mercury/Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealership in Brandenburg where he lives with his wife Lovell, they have two children, Ray Jr. and Brenda Ray.

Ray has been down the Derby trail before, in 1990 he entered Fighting Fantasy who got into early traffic problems (with Unbridled and Pleasant Tap) and finished 15th. The following year, he entered Wilder Than Ever who was forced to steady after the start and finished 15th. Both colts were trained by John Churchman Jr. Since that time he has raced mostly in the claiming ranks with success and was leading owner at Ellis Park on more than one occasion. In 2005 Prince Arch gave him his biggest score to date when he won 2005 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1).

They say the third time's a charm and to the Chinese three is a lucky number and so Ray's third entrant in the 133rd Kentucky Derby will be Birdbirdistheword who will be making his third start of the year (hmmm, more threes) , a modestly-bred, Pure Prize colt with a very long name. The name came out of Ray's experience in Vietnam where helicopters, used to carry troops in and out of combat zones, were referred to as birds. In honor of those brave pilots and crews Ray named the colt, Birdbirdistheword. Purchased for $32,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in August 2005. Birdbirdistheword more than returned his purchase price when he thundered down the stretch at Delta Downs to win the $1,000,000 Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3).

Now Ray and Team Bird are about to embark on a fantastic journey so few get to take, his third trip down the Kentucky Derby trail. Ray and Team Bird have been kind enough to let me follow along for next few months of their lives. In the weeks ahead we will document the ordinary and extraordinary events in the life of Birdbirdistheword and Team Bird.

The following is our interview with Ray Cottrell Sr.

Q. When and how did you become involved in horse racing?

A. In 1986 I made a visit to the backside of Churchill Downs and met with Dr. Hartell and purchased my first race horse for $6,000. His name was Mobile Express and in his next race I ran him in an allowance race and he won. So I more then got my money back with that horse.

Q. How many horses do you have in training?

A. Currently 11

Q. What are your plans for Birdbirdistheword's spring campaign?

A. Louisiana Derby in March then on to the Toyota Bluegrass at Keeneland, then we will go from there.

Q. Targeting the Delta Jackpot was a wise strategic move since winning there provided you with more than enough graded earnings to get into the gate at the Derby. Does having the graded earnings change your approach to a spring campaign?

A. Yes. Now we can kind of hold back and not push and over train or over run this fantastic horse.

Q. Now that Birdbirdistheword is a graded stakes winner and Derby contender are you being approached about selling him or selling an interest in him?

A. Yes, I have had several people and organizations contact me but I have not accepted any offers.

Q. You have known Kenny McPeek, who trains the colt, for over 20 years. Tell us about your working relationship with Kenny?

A. I am a very active owner and am in contact with Kenny daily. My relationship with Kenny is more like that of a father and son. He is a great person who cares deeply about the welfare of all horses under his charge. This is very important to me.

Q. What other trainers do you admire or work with?

A. Paul McGee, Helen Pitts, Steve Flint. My first trainer years ago was John Churchman.

Q. Did you select Birdbirdistheword yourself or were you advised with your purchase?

A. Kenny McPeek selected him on my behalf. He has a fantastic eye for good horses.

Q. What are you looking for when you buy a racing prospect?

A. Best horse for the money.

Q. What stallions interest you as a buyer?

A. Prince Arch, Pure Prize and Arch

Q. Are you a handicapper?

A. Amateur at best.

Q. What is your approach to betting?

A. I normally only bet on my own horses.

Q. What would winning the Kentucky Derby mean to you?

A. The ultimate reward in thoroughbred horse racing.


Tote Board Brad said...

Thanks for bring this story to us. It's great to have a place where you can get the inside scoop and detailed descriptions of a horse and his connections as they navigate their way toward the spring classics.

wendyu said...

This is very cool that we can tag along with the Birdbird team! I've got you subscribed in my bloglines! Thanks!

kentucky joe said...

nice job!

Handride said...

Just to let you know Bird finished tied for 18th on the TBA 2yo list. Congrats!

One question
Now you have the money for the starting gate you said you'd be cautious with him, how will McPeek
try and balance a fresh horse with a horse with enough experience? Also is there anything that would keep you from the starting gate if he's healthy that first Saturday? Does his training change now?
What were McPeek's initial thoughts about where this horse might fit class wise (i doubt it was the
Thanks for being so open w/ your trail, it's going to make a great read!

larrygreen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
larry said...

Handride, Thanks for the info on BirdBirds current standings. What we mean by being cautious is to train the horse without allowing him to over do it. This colt trains hard and always pushes himself to the limits. He is a very professional horse that is all business on the track. We feel that with a couple of derby preps that this horse will still be somewhat fresh but will also have the necessary experience to handle the derby. At this time as long as this nice horse remains healthy we don't think there is anything that will keep him from the derby field. This horse caught kennys attention early on in his training. Kenny told us after only breezing him a couple of tiomes that this horse has alot of talent. The Derby really was not at the top of our thoughts until after the Delta Jackpot. But please keep in mind that there is still alot of time before the Derby and therefore it is still only a goal for us. We hope that the dream will come true, but the horses health is the most important thing to all of us. Thanks for your intrest in BirdBirdIsTheWord.

larry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dylbert said...

Great blog... I have had good fortune to wager, witness and win twice on this fantastic horse.

First, I liked Birdbirdistheword based on his past performances going into Harrah's Juvenile at Louisiana Downs in September. My best score on Super Derby Day. Second, when I saw Birdbird nominated for Delta Jackpot I kept tabs. I drove 2-1/2 hours each way specifically to see Birdbird run again at Delta Downs. When I got over 5-to-1, I was overwhelmed!

Watching the Jackpot replay one cannot get true sense of how outstanding his ninth-to-first move was. Running tight turn and cruising down the stretch... this was truly amazing move for 2YO colt.

Other horses with high Beyer Speed Figures may attract more press -- let them. I have already made plans to attend Louisiana Derby on March 10. I've never been to Lexington so that would interesting trip.

Also, I love it when horse I follow has great connections, too. My late father and late father-in-law were both career military officers in US Air Force and US Army, respectively.

See 'ya in New Orleans!

Larry Green said...

Thank you for your kind words. We at Team birdbird would like to invite you to the winners circle if we win the Louisiana derby. It would be great for us to meet such a loyal follower of Birdbirdistheword. And from such a patriotic family. Again, Thanks for your support.