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.