Todd Palin may have had to drop out of the 2010 Iron Dog snowmachine race, but his thoroughbred namesake is having a pretty good year so far.
Last Saturday, horses and jockeys kicked off the Kentucky horse racing season at Keeneland in Lexington by running the 86th Blue Grass Stakes. The event is the capstone to opening festivities at the venerable track, and often serves as a tune-up race for elite horses planning to enter the Kentucky Derby. A 40-1 longshot ended up claiming first place, but "First Dude," a 3-year-old colt owned by medical industry executive Donald R. Dizney, claimed third.
Dizney's farm, Double Diamond Farm of Ocala, Fla., also was the colt's breeder. Roger Brand, Double Diamond's vice president and general manager, confirmed in a phone interview that indeed First Dude was named in honor of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd.
What's more, First Dude was born to a 10-year-old mare named "Run Sarah Run," which Brand said Double Diamond acquired when she became available after a conditioned race at Churchill Downs. Brand explained that a conditioned race gives owners better chances for their horses to win, but comes with the risk of having to sell a horse for much less than it's worth if it doesn't come through. When Run Sarah Run came up for a $40,000 claim, they didn't pass up the chance. "We just happen to be Republicans, and we thought it would be cool," said Brand.
When Double Diamond bred Run Sarah Run, choosing a name for her foal was easy, and not only because of their fondness for the Palins. "He's huge, he's a big horse, and he's a total dude," explained Brand.
There may also be another Alaska horse connection. According to Horse Racing Nation, a fan wiki page, Run Sarah Run's sire is "Smart Strike," which the site also lists as the grandsire of "Mine That Bird," 2009's Kentucky Derby winner. Readers may recall that Mine That Bird was owned in part by Mark Allen, son of former VECO boss and key federal corruption witness, Bill Allen.
All in all, First Dude's handlers are pleased that the colt got some space to run in the Blue Grass; in the recent Florida Derby, he got boxed in a bit and couldn't show much of his potential. At the Blue Grass Stakes, First Dude "turned in a solid performance and legitimized himself as a top performer," said Brand.
First Dude's owners are looking for the colt to build on his strong showing in upcoming races, but securing a spot in the Kentucky Derby seems unlikely unless quite a few other horses drop out. Brand said that the Belmont Stakes looks more likely for First Dude's next big test.
Contact Scott Woodham at swoodham(at)alaskadispatch.com