Haskin's Derby Trail: Derby Dreams and Nightmares

Well, it’s one day away from the dreaded draw, that simple tradition that can have even the most hardened racetracker shuddering in fear and apprehension. This is the last hurdle to clear, and if you don’t, it could mean four months of training, racing, worrying, and dreaming right down the proverbial drain.

One owner of a Derby horse said just today, “If I draw post 1, I’ll kill myself. I might even consider scratching.”

Those agonizing minutes when the pills are being pulled are every horseman’s nightmare. Once you get past this hurdle unscathed, it’s just two days of waiting for the big moment.

But the magic of the Kentucky Derby certainly is not restricted to owners, trainers, and jockeys. The race affects people all over the country in different ways, many of whom have Derby dreams of their own.

One such person is Chris Simonds, who has had a lifelong dream of going to the Kentucky Derby with his grandfather, Frank Clayton, who used to take him to Los Alamitos when he was a kid and place $2 bets for his grandson

For his 18th birthday present, Frank took Chris back to Los Alamitos and gave him $50 to bet legally for first time. Chris and Frank were often accompanied to the track by Frank’s friend, Rod Lowe, and all three became very close during their travels to Los Alamitos and visits to Rod’s Quarter-Horse ranch.

Chris Simonds, his grandfather Frank Clayton, and Rod Lowe at Santa Anita.

Chris’ sister, Lisa Hill, said, “Through these experiences, a dream was born that the three of them would one day go to the Kentucky Derby, but they would only do it when they could go in style and live the full week of Derby experiences. This included tours of the racetracks, visits to the finest stud farms in the world, and ultimately tickets with a view of the Derby itself.”

Not long before Chris was deployed to Iraq, he promised his grandfather that he would return safely so they could finally attend the Kentucky Derby and fulfill their dream.

“It’s a dream that was some 12 to 14 years in the making, and when we did it, we wanted to do it right and go the whole nine yards,” Chris said. “But then came something that put a wrinkle in the plans.”

It actually was a lot more than a wrinkle.

“Five and a half weeks into his deployment, a sniper put a 7.62 bullet into my brother’s back,” Lisa said. “He was flung forward face first into the dirt and noticed large amounts of blood pouring out of his mouth. An ambush was underway with an enemy machine gun opening fire. A combat medic dragged him to safety. He couldn’t breathe and felt awfully cold enough though the temperature was 120-plus degrees. He lost consciousness nine times and began talking to God. He remembers thinking he had let his grandfather down.”

Chris made a full recovery and was awarded the Purple Heart. This year, for his 30th birthday, he decided it was the right year to finally live his and his grandfather’s dream.

“With some savings, the generosity of many family members and friends, and help from Sita World Tours and Premiere Sports Travel (www.sportstravel.com), Chris and his grandfather, and Rod and are finally living their Kentucky Derby dream,” Lisa said.

Said Chris: “This year’s Derby field is the most talented and well-bred in years, and I felt, ‘This has to be the year.’ Since day one of the trip I’ve probably slept a total of two hours I’ve been so excited. We visited Adena Springs, Hurstland Farm, and Old Friends, and on Wednesday we’re attending “Dawn at the Downs,” having breakfast on Millionaires Row, and then going to the Kentucky Horse Park to see Cigar and the other horses there, and then on to Three Chimneys. The only disappointment was that my grandfather really wanted to see Barbaro’s sire, Dynaformer, but, unfortunately, he died the other day, on Barbaro’s birthday. But this trip has already been so wonderful, and if it ended today it would still be wonderful.”

As for his brush with death, Chris simply said, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And that’s what makes this dream all the more special.”

The other Daddy on his way

We know that Daddy Knows, or we should say Nose, Best, but does he or anyone else really know what Daddy Long Legs is going to do in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)?

According to a Ballydoyle spokesperson, trainer Aidan O’Brien has been “happy with Daddy Long Legs since he won the UAE Derby (UAE-I) in Dubai.”

“Said O’Brien, “At home, Daddy Long Legs works well and is a good mover with an extravagant action. He’s a horse that likes eating and sleeping and only does what he needs to do. We’ve had a cold spell in Ireland with unseasonably bad weather which hasn’t been ideal, but he’s a very relaxed and straightforward horse to do anything with.

“Daddy Long Legs did a routine canter on Sunday morning, everything went well and he’s in good form. This morning he left Ireland for Kentucky and now we’re just looking forward to Saturday. Colm (O’Donoghue) rides him again and we’re hoping he runs well.”

O’Brien will remain in Europe Saturday to saddle Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) favorite Camelot at Newmarket.

Tuesday tidbits

The Todd Pletcher-trained Gemologist and El Padrino finally arrived from Palm Meadows, along with Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Take Charge Indy. Both Pletcher colts were in fine physical form, with El Padrino making an immediate impression. He is a powerful, flashy-looking chestnut with a white face and makes a striking appearance.

El Padrino - Photo By Steve Haskin

Take Charge Indy looked fantastic. The son of A.P. Indy has a refined classy, “Black Stallion” look about him and his coat had a beautiful shine to it, despite the cloudy, humid morning. He doesn’t look anything like his sire, but bears a close resemblance to his dam, the top-class Take Charge Lady.

Take Charge Indy - Photo by Steve Haskin

On the track for the first time Tuesday morning was Alpha, who arrived Monday evening just before 6:30. The smallish, narrow-bodied son of Bernardini had good energy coming off the track, spending most of his time looking at the crowd gathered along the rail.

Alpha - Photo by Steve Haskin

Rousing Sermon showed he likes this track, working a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, coming home his final quarter in :23 4/5 and final eighth in :12 flat, galloping out six furlongs in 1:14. There are a lot of things we’re liking about this colt, and can definitely see him coming on at the end and at the least being a part of the exotics.

Our final words of the day: Welcome to the Derby, Mr. Lukas.

Lava Man, pony for I'll Have Another - Photo by Steve Haskin

Dullahan - Photo by Steve Haskin


Leave a Comment:

steve from st louis

Steve, a very superficial question: Are you as  partial to chestnut throughbreds as I am? Ever since seeing Big Red in person at Arlington Park one day in 1973, I'm spoiled. You can have your grays and bays, that El Padrino has just one white stocking too many.

01 May 2012 5:39 PM

This is so exciting to have new blog posts and new photos from you coming at such a fast rate!  Yay!!  But you made me cry with that first part.  What a beautiful story and I sincerely hope that Mr. Simonds and his grandfather and friend have an unbelievable great time in KY and get to have all the fun and excitement that they have waited for.  Thank you so much, Steve, for sharing this hero's story with us - thanks to him for his service.

The post position draw will be quite interesting tomorrow and I'm glad to read that it will be shown on one of the NBCs.  Such daytime drama!  

The colts in your photos are all so handsome, but I'm still in love with Lava Man so I thank you for including him, too.  You are the BEST!



01 May 2012 5:57 PM

Love that look in Dullahan's eye - "hey, Steve, I got a tip for you!"

01 May 2012 6:06 PM

Wonderful stories, beautiful pictures, the excitement builds and builds. I am hoping for a six horse dead heat.

01 May 2012 6:15 PM
Don from PA/DE

I believe you are high on ELP Steve, but how about a photo of "Gem"?

01 May 2012 7:08 PM

Hi Steve,

Eloquent words, beautifully written, my eyes were glassed over reading it. Thank you Chris for your service to this country,you are a hero.

I really feel for those owners, I can't imagine what they must be feeling.  

Steve, Alpha was second in the Champagne should we take any clues from that based on your previous article?

Once again Steve, thank you for all your hard work. It is greatly appreciated.

With Kind Regards,


01 May 2012 7:20 PM

A very touching human interest story, thanks Steve.  You have a way of painting the experience so that the reader can experience the same.  What a joy for a grandfather, grandson and friend to enjoy this great event.

Last year, after winning the 2010 RoadtotheRoses contest, we spent our dream-come-true Derby week in Louisville. Was at the track for workouts each morning, did a VIP backstretch tour, Kentucky Derby museum, breakfast at Wagner's, racing Tuesday and Wednesday, the Derby Draw (where I met you, Steve).  Then 3 nights at the Galt House and Oaks/Derby Days in the 6th Floor Skye Terrace, all courtesy of Churchill Downs. It's hard to believe a year has gone by.  What a memorable week!

If you have never been there but have been thinking about it, DO IT, DO IT SOON!

Thanks Steve, for the updates and pics.  Really looking to see how the Florida 3 look on the track.  

01 May 2012 7:30 PM

If the horse that draws the one hole were to scratch within the time to let an also eligible entry into the field, this would be unfair to the number 2 horse since he would now be breaking from the one hole.  I will be hoping for 4-13 for Dullahan.

01 May 2012 7:39 PM

Thanks, Steve.  These kinds of stories are my favorites from your prolific pen. I hope someday to get back to the Derby, now that I know a little bit about the sport.  I was fortunate enough to attend two runnings -- 1980 and 1981 -- and enjoyed the hospitality of relatives who had wonderful boxes on the finish line. While I enjoyed myself, I knew absolutely nothing about the sport, and barely had any appreciation for what I witnessed in 1980, the day the filly won it for the first time since Regret in 1915. Ginny was great, and fortunately I have some wonderful photos of my trip there to see her and the following year Pleasant Colony. It took 29 years for another filly to reach in an grab my heart and make me fall in love with this sport and wish I had not wasted so much time in between. I will never forget the afternoon as I sat channel surfing and watched as Zenyatta came out of the gate in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic. I finally "got" it! I've been playing catch up ever since!

01 May 2012 8:24 PM
Uncle Smiley

Mr. H.... Thanks for recognizing our national heroes.

Let me know when you are next at DelPark.

I will handle the photography for you.

Uncle Smiley

01 May 2012 8:49 PM
CarryBack 61

They are all so beautiful & special in their own way. Is it wrong to want all of them to win?  (unrealistic, I know...)

01 May 2012 9:26 PM
Alfred H. Nuckols, Jr.

I had the wonderful privilege of meeting Chris Simonds while hosting a tour at Hurstland today. I wish I had read your story earlier, Steve, before the tour, because I would have enjoyed the opportunity to have given Chris a personal thank-you for a job well done on his part as a veteran. We had a nice visit chatting and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him about the horses. He made a very positive impression on me and it was a great privilege to host him and the other fans that visited today.

01 May 2012 10:54 PM

It's a shame there can only be one winner, love them all!

02 May 2012 1:54 AM
Chris Simonds

Mr. Nuckols Jr., the tour given by you today was a highlight of the day for us.  I loved the atmosphere at your "working" horse farm and the time you took to answer all of our questions was very much appreciated.  Thank you again for the tour today

02 May 2012 2:34 AM
Chris Simonds

Mr. Nuckols, the tour you gave today was really a highlight of our day.  The atmosphere at Hurstland was very inspiring and I wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer all of our question and I promise Hurstland has some very big fans after today.  Thanks again sir.

02 May 2012 2:38 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

Such a good story and such good pictures!  I was especially impressed with the picture of El Padrino.  Not having seen him in person, I really didn't know how beautiful he is.  And Lava Man, he has a place of honor on a wall in my home.  What a guy!

02 May 2012 11:12 AM

Lovely article about one of our brave heros that serve our country.  Thank you for putting it in print!

We went to the Derby the year that Winning Colors won, while we didn't have track side seats, I was at the rail in the walking ring and really had a wonderful view of all the horses.. and got some great shots.  It was a great experience and would love one day to repeat.  We did however have trackside seats at the Breeders Cup and got to see the great races the last year it was held at Gulf Stream (I think it was the last year there)

02 May 2012 12:28 PM


We now have 21 horses confirmed with My Adonis, I thought 20 was max. Is this the first time this has happened?

Kind Regards,


02 May 2012 1:52 PM
Linda in Texas

Steve, so glad you are right there up close and photographing.

Thank you Chris Simonds for your service, such trite words but so full of respect of you and thousands of other men and women who have served this country and helped others. Glad your special week with your grand dad Mr. Clayton and Mr. Lowe is here.

Steve, thanks so much for the  photo of my hero, Lava Man.

When he was brought back out of retirement to race again a couple+  years back, i lost it when he lost! I told myself, he did not lose, as just showing up and loading the gate at his age was effort and heart enough.

I have no idea which one will be

successful, i have had those same thoughts for some time and have mentioned it right from the beginning. Just too many super giants who on any given day could win! And we all should simply take that as an example of how to live our own lives. Just believe that each day you are given is a winner.

Hope everyone stays sound in this race and their owners and handlers all have a joyous celebration and don't forget to have extra mints and carrots at the ready when the victor returns to his stall. You know, after that grinding race, all of them deserve treats.

Cheers and Safe Journeys to all.

Thanks so much Steve. Have a grand time thus the rest of us will also.

02 May 2012 1:52 PM
Matthew W

Steve, there aren't that many Gr1, 1 1/4 races--I'm not sure I've ever seen a stable pony who won FIVE such races, including three in a single year--until you posted a pic of Lava Man! Thank's! I hope his stable mate, I'll Have Another, does better on the road as did Lava Man, of course it's doubtful anyone in the year's class-laden Derby field will ever accomplish what Lava Man did!

02 May 2012 2:04 PM

What a wonderful story of dreams come true!  There are probably quite a few of us out here who have been wishing we could go to the Derby for a lifetime now.  They truely deserve it - have fun guys!!!

And I love your pictures, Steve.  That Dullahan has such an alert, intelligent expression. He looks like a fun sort of horse.  Your pictures are particularly great this year and are helping me see who is looking good, thanks so much.

One more quick note to Deltalady.  I loved your story of finding horseracing again.  I'm sure many of us can recognize ourselves - I sure do.  Secretariat drew me in all those years ago when I was a teenager.  I just fell in love and he still stands first in my heart but life got busy and I paid only minor attention for years - until Smarty Jones.  My daughter happened to be living near Pimlico that year and said "you want to go?"  That was the return of racehorse fever.  I get worse every year. It's like malaria :)

02 May 2012 2:52 PM

I'm mostly happy for my California contingency -- #6 Bode, #7 Rousing Sermon, #8 Creative Cause (whom I actually prayed for)... just upset that I'll have Another drew the #19 (not giving up on this talently colt).  Liaison maybe needed to draw the far outside post due to two prior experiences that made him shy away from contact.  God Bless all the horses...

02 May 2012 7:06 PM

Daddy Long Legs from the rail at 44-1. You heard it first!

02 May 2012 7:43 PM
Alfred H. Nuckols, Jr.


Thank you for your kind note. If you and your gradfather and Mr. Lowe ever make it back to the Bluegrass for the Keeneland race meet in either April or October, please contact me and let me know. I would be more than happy to let you use my box at Keeneland. You can get the farm contact information at www.hurstlandfarm.com

Alfred Nuckols

02 May 2012 10:53 PM

I have to say my biggest thrill is seeing Lava Man!! I love love love UR but I think DNB can win this. Probably just by a nose but he can win it.

02 May 2012 11:52 PM

Matthew W:

Actually, Lava Man won 7 grade 1 races at 10 furlongs!

In 2005 he won the Hollywood Gold Cup.  In 2006 he won FOUR grade 1 races at 10 furlongs, sweeping the Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic, and he also won the 10f Whittingham on turf.  Then in 2007 he again doubled in the Big Cap and Hollywood Gold Cup, with the latter coming on synth.

Lava Man also won the Goodwood(then a gr.2), Californian, Sunshine Millions Classic(when a $1 million race), Sunshine Millions Turf, and set a track record at 8.5 furlongs(I believe) on the Hollywood turf.

Lava Man had one weakness, he couldn't ship.  And it cost him the Older Male Eclipse and HoY in 06' when the Breeder's Cup was at Churchill.  Invasor was an awesome horse, but Lava Man would have been right with him at the finish line had the BC been at Santa Anita or Hollywood.  But it wasn't.  Invasor was a really, really good horse, and he could ship.

03 May 2012 6:00 AM
Pedigree Ann

Always loved The Lava Dude. Not bred in the purple but excellently bred for 10f and for durability (his dam won 8 races in 18 starts).

03 May 2012 11:54 AM


   Great article!!!!  Thank you Chris for your service to our country.  Because of you, and all the vets out there, we are able to have the KD and TC.  I hope you are having the time of your life!  

   Kentucky is a beautiful state and the people living there are a "cut above" the rest. Glad you were able to hit a couple of farms.  

    Hope that everyone has a great time on Derby Day!  Here's to a safe  trip for all the horses and jockeys.

03 May 2012 1:43 PM
Matthew W

Gun Bow that's right six on dirt and another on turf--1 1/4, Gr1's, wow! All that after O'Neil claimed him! That is instant credit for Doug when his bro argues with him over a claim--Doug ends every conversation with "Lava Man!", great! His first, the Hollywood Gold Cup on dirt, ridden by PVal, where he drew away, head low, by seven easy lengths--that was his best race of his career! THAT race put him in there with Invasor, but as good as a horse as Lava Man was, he was no Invasor! Of course, Lava could turf, dirt or rubber-band it, and he looked so good in his chocolate brown coat with the big white blaze, there's something about a hard trying gelding, they wear on you, this year's Kentucky Derby has one of the deepest and toughest fields in it's history--yet it's doubtful there will emerge a horse who will win seven Gr1's at 1 1/4, like the great claimer, Lava Man did, he'll be ponying #19, I'll Have Another!

04 May 2012 1:40 AM

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