Homeboykris, a 50-to-1 longshot at the Kentucky Derby, was… (AP photo )
When David Hayden was growing up in Edmondson Village in the 1950s, he would go around the neighborhood offering to mow lawns or paint fences for $2 an hour.
Almost all of the money he earned went right back into someone else's hands at a racetrack. That's what happens when you're young and you love thoroughbred racing.
That $2 wage Hayden once charged is an interesting sum, because today at the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby, it's the same amount that it will cost you to place a bet on Homeboykris, a horse Hayden and his wife, JoAnn, bred on their 155-acre Dark Hollow Farm in northern Baltimore County.
"My wife and I didn't come from money," Hayden said Friday from Pimlico, where he and his wife were watching one of their horses, All the Glory, before departing for Louisville to attend the Derby. "We both grew up in row houses, and we're first generation horse people."
Their connection to today's Derby, however, is a reminder that if you want it badly enough, there is a place for you in horse racing. The Haydens have a small breeding operation by some standards, but over the last 30-plus years, they've become one of Maryland's most successful.
And in a way it all started, like so many good horse stories, when the Haydens found themselves captivated by Secretariat.
"My husband and I were at a horse show when Secretariat won the Belmont," JoAnn Hayden said. "He said to me, I'd like to have a horse like that.' "
They haven't quite found the next Secretariat — no one has — but they've done well for themselves. Homeboykris, the offspring of Dark Hollow mare One Last Salute, and the son of Roman Ruler, is a 50-1 longshot in the Run for the Roses, but he's also the second horse the Haydens have bred to qualify for a Triple Crown race. In 2003, Dark Hollow-bred New York Hero ran in the Preakness.
"It's definitely just an honor to be in the race," said Hayden, who also has a career in advertising and is the sole owner of David Hayden Advertising Inc. "If you think about it, there were 34,000 foals born in 2007, and Homeboykris is one of 20 to qualify for this race. That's quite the privilege."
Hayden says he had an inkling Homeboykris had the potential to be a special horse.
"We really loved him from the day he was born," Hayden said. "He just had a presence about him we remember vividly. Every once in awhile, you get one you think is going to be special. He has a black birthmark on his face, just below his left eye, that made him special."
They sold Homeboykris for $50,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale, and in his third start, he won one of racing's most prestigious juvenile tests, the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. He hasn't won as a 3-year-old, and hasn't shown the speed that some of the other horses in the field have shown, but as last year's Kentucky Derby proved, anything is possible. He'll go from the No. 19 position with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
"I'm just hoping for a good trip," said Homeboykris' trainer Rick Dutrow, who two years ago guided Big Brown to wins in the Derby and Preakness. "I don't know if we'll get one from out there. But he's got plenty of speed. We need him to break good and fall into a saving-ground position going into the first turn. That's what we're hoping for, but it probably won't happen. We'll see. There's not pressure on the horse or the jock."
The Haydens, like Dutrow, have no grand expectations. The horse hasn't received much buzz this week, outside of the fact that Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre owns a 10 percent stake. But the Haydens don't mind expressing their excitement over having bred a horse that ended up in America's biggest race.
"It's a pretty big deal for us," said JoAnn Hayden, who worked as a teacher for 32 years in Baltimore County before retirement. "It means a lot to the farm."
The Haydens are no strangers to the winner's circle. They've bred 17 graded stakes winners over the years, including Eclipse Award-winning sprint champion Safely Kept, who earned nearly $2.2 million in purses during her career.
"She kind of gave us a national reputation," David Hayden said.
Times have been difficult for Maryland horse breeders in recent years as surrounding states have added slot machines, increasing their purses and awarding large bonuses to horses bred in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia, but the Haydens have done well for themselves.
"Todd Pletcher just bought four of our horses," David Hayden said, referring to the three-time Eclipse winning trainer who has four horses in the Derby field this year. "And John Shirreffs just bought a couple, so our horses have done pretty well."
So could something crazy happen that allows Homeboykris to win the Derby today, which would create a huge demand for One Last Salute and a financial windfall for Deep Hollow Farm? You never know. That's what makes the event arguably the most exciting two minutes in sports.
"I think Rick Dutrow said it best: I'm not going into this race with confidence, I'm going into this race with hope,' " Hayden said.
"Looking at the forecast, it sounds like there could be a deluge of rain. That could be a huge equalizer. None of these horses have ever gone mile and quarter before, so when you throw into the equation a deep muddy track, anything is possible."