One Martini… Still Shaking - By Evan Hammonds

For small partnership groups a score at any level is exciting. To land a grade 3 event—one worth $500,000 amid the current pandemic landscape—is a thrill beyond compare. That is just what happened to Brad Rives and company June 26 at JACK Thistledown Racino when Dean Martini, a $50,000 claim May 17, jumped up and won the Ohio Derby (G3).

Rives is the main guy behind Raise the BAR Racing. The Louisvillian, who has been in different syndicates for some 20 years, put the current group together just over two years ago and employed trainer Tom Amoss. This bunch, which includes Annie Jessee and Diane Jessee, has had a good run into an otherwise strange season so far. They raced Remembermis, a Louisiana-bred picked out by Amoss, to a stakes placing on Louisiana Champions Day last December at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

“We sold him, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the pandemic and everything, and we were trying to figure out what to do,” Rives said. “Lo and behold, as things opened up, we gave Tom the ‘up to 50 ($50,000)’ sign, and he found a good one for us.”

Rives was with Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities for 32 years, serving as the company’s CFO for eight years. He’s been retired for five. Despite the high-voltage business career, it’s racing that delivers an unbridled jolt of energy.

“When it happens…we (the other partners) were joking, and we spoke multiple times last night. One of the questions was, ‘Have you stopped shaking yet?’ ” Rives said. “It was an amazing event for us. We’ve never experienced anything like that. Being from Louisville, it’s people like us that just like the industry; it’s people from Kentucky; and it’s people just lucky enough to be in this spot.”

The spot for Rives and the rest of the group was not at Thistledown. That’s to be expected these days.

“We were originally told we could not attend and then told we could, but it was kind of late in the game, and it was just too difficult,” Rives said. “Everybody is over 60. We’re not running scared from what is going on—but just careful—so we didn’t want to get in the middle of something we weren’t comfortable with. We really appreciate everybody in Ohio. I’m actually going to send them a letter. I don’t want them to think we didn’t want to come, but it was too awkward a situation for us at the time.

“Different folks were in different places because of family commitments and things, and everybody called one another afterward. There was screaming and yelling; we very much enjoy the industry, but we don’t have a bunch of horses running in a bunch of different places, so this one is particularly special. We’ve grown up around racing, and to be fortunate enough to win a grade 3 was something so exciting.”

The score comes on the heels of the announcement that Churchill Downs will be able to have fans in attendance for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). Let’s not count on Raise the BAR Racing just yet.

“We got 20 points, but Dean Martini is not Triple Crown nominated,” Rives said. “That all happened before we had him. It wasn’t our decision. The price to supplement—$200,000—is a huge number. I’d never say never but that would be...

Even being from the Derby City, Rives, as of late June, won’t be tempted to join the post parade.

These are cautious times, but as a local executive, he sees the importance of the Derby to the city.

“I hope it all works out well,” he said. “I’m glad they have decided to try to do it under specific guidelines. I think they are trying to be careful and still have an event that is really important. I give them credit for working with the governor and figuring out a way to make a great event possible even if it is limited.

“It’s got to be safe, and people have to be reasonable.”

And Rives remains a calming presence in a pandemic world.

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