By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
He was among the last to know.
Saturday afternoon, Patrick Fertitta set up his Apple TV at the Petroleum Club. The ordained minister and restaurateur had invited about 30 friends and family to party and watch the 149th Kentucky Derby. Fertitta owns shares in Mage, a Kentucky-bred Chestnut Colt which went off at odds of 15-1.
The field of 18 horses broke from the Churchill Downs gate in Louisville, Kentucky, at straight up 6 p.m. central time. But on Fertitta’s TV, the race didn’t start until closer to 6:30.
“When I was setting it up, I made a mistake,” Fertitta said Sunday afternoon. “I ended up pausing the unit. There was about a 30-minue delay. I didn’t realize it. We were watching everything, and one of my friends said, ‘This thing’s running late!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on.’ Then about 15 or 20 minutes before the race actually went off for us, I started getting congratulatory texts, and my mind is thinking what in the world is going on here?”
What was “going on” is that Mage — ridden by 45-year-old Venezuelan Javier Castellano — spent the first half of the mile-and-a-quarter race in the back of the pack. But as he approached the far turn, Mage began a strong run on the outside, surged to the lead with a furlong to go, and held off Two Phil’s by a length, for the winner’s share of $1.86 million.
“My friend called me over. He had gotten a message on his phone from a news service that said Mage won the Kentucky Derby. He said, ‘Patrick, look at this!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m getting a lot of congratulatory texts. I’m guessing he won!’ I said, ‘Don’t say anything to anyone else because they don’t know.’”
Having advance notice did wonders for Fertitta’s health.
“That saved me from probably having a heart attack during that race. At least knowing the outcome — I didn’t know how it happened — so I still got the excitement of seeing how it happened. Knowing he won kept me from falling out on the floor.”
It also kept Fertitta from falling asleep until 4 o’clock Sunday morning.
“I think my phone was buzzing until midnight. But I just laid in bed staring at the ceiling, with my mind just reeling. (I got) messages from people literally all over the world — England, Italy, Indonesia — from friends that I have who live in all parts of the world. It’s been totally surreal.”
Fertitta got into horse ownership a little more than a year ago, when he bought shares in Country Grammer — which is now fifth on the all-time thoroughbred earnings list ($14.8 million). Seeing Grammer’s success and Fertitta’s excitement stoked the interest of Fertitta’s family. So, Fertitta formed a partnership called Omerta Thoroughbreds, which includes Fertitta, his mother (Agatha), aunt (Allie), uncle (Joe), and a friend. The cost of ownership in a horse is $50 per share. Fertitta won’t say how many shares Omerta owns, though the partnership has a stake in seven horses.
For Fertitta, owning a piece of a horse — however small — means a lot more than simply betting on a horse. And that meaning has nothing to do with money.
“When Mage crossed the finish line yesterday, it wasn’t being able to say my bet won. It was being able to say my horse won. That’s something you cannot put a price on. Whether I had one share, or 1,000 shares, or 100,000 shares, that is something you cannot put a value or a price tag on.”
Saturday’s Derby win was a dream come true — not only for the 42-year old Fertitta who has been a racing fan since he was 15 — but for his 73-year-old mother.
“My mom, she’s been watching the Derby for, gosh, since she was a kid, too. I asked her yesterday, ‘Mom, did you ever think you would own a Kentucky Derby winner?’ She said, ‘Nope. This is phenomenal!’”
Another result of Fertitta’s horse winning the Run for the Roses? The first line of his obituary is already written.
“Maybe one day when they (write it), they will say he was part owner of a Kentucky Derby horse. That’s going to go with me for the rest of my life.”
Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com