It starts in the late spring and early summer. You look at the two-year-olds racing in Kentucky and New York. You examine pedigree and performance. You hope that by the following spring, you’ll have found your Derby horse.
But sometimes, your Derby horse finds you.
Bud Perrone grew up in Louisville, going to “the Downs” every now and again. He’s one of ten children—five of them boys—and while never “particularly immersed” in racing, in high school he and his friends would go to the infield. He still has family in Louisville, and his brother still goes to the Derby every year.
Bud’s never had a Kentucky Derby party. Living in Brooklyn now with his family, their gig is an annual Halloween party. “We couldn’t get our act together in the spring, too,” he said, “though we always said that some day we’d throw a Derby party.”
Jack Conway went to school with the Perrone boys: Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school. His best friend was Victor, Bud’s younger brother, who eighteen years ago was killed in a car accident in Louisville at age 23.
Jack is now Kentucky’s Attorney General and a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He owns horses with his father Tom, and has for some time. According to Bud, he’s always wanted to name a horse after his friend Victor, but “he waited all these years for the right one. He wanted to name the perfect horse after Victor.”
Jack and Tom bought a Ghostzapper colt last year for $250,000, and finally, they had found the one. They named him Stately Victor, and he made his first start at Saratoga last summer, finishing second to Winslow Homer in an off-the-turf race. On closing weekend, Woodward Saturday, Stately Victor won a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf race by four and a half lengths.
At that point, Bud Perrone had no idea that the horse existed. “I heard about him right before the Breeder’s Futurity,” he recalled. Stately Victor finished seventh over Keeneland’s Polytrack, behind Noble’s Promise and Aikenite.
“And then I sort of lost of track of him,” Bud admitted. Stately Victor lost five races in a row, and life in Brooklyn with children interfered with following the colt’s career.
“I didn’t even know that he was running in the Bluegrass,” Bud said this week. “My mother called me that night after he won.” So no, Bud did not cash an $82.20 winning ticket when Stately Victor crossed the wire first. (Backstretch readers might remember that Brian Nadeau called the exacta in that race and gave out the winner during his weekend radio chat.)
Bud watched the race on YouTube, and while moved by the victory of his brother’s equine namesake, it took a while to sink in. “You get so distracted by everyday life—it was great when my mother told me, but now it brings up all these reminders of when we were little kids, little moments. They’re never too far away, but they can get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
“I’ve had 18 years to dwell on Victor’s loss, and you get to some level of acceptance, so all of this has been completely sweet, even if it brings back memories. It’s been great going back to the memories of being little kids, of all the good stuff.”
Bud’s throwing his first Derby party this year, and he’s expecting 50-60 people to show up at his Brooklyn home, where the juleps will be flowing. “I go to the Derby about every five years, and of course I thought about going this year. But I decided to stay home. Some of my friends know about Victor, some don’t. This is a great way for my friends here to share in this and to learn about my brother.”
Naturally, Bud wants Stately Victor to win. “It would be great for the Conways,” he said. “This is Tom Conway’s first Derby starter.” He’s also “a little superstitious” and reluctant to even think about Stately Victor in the winner’s circle. “If he finishes 19th, it’ll be OK,” he says philosophically. “The best part of this is the story, the friends who knew Victor, the focus on his life.” But he can’t quite help himself: “Of course, it would be great if he came to the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line…”
Whether Stately Victor wins or loses on Saturday, he will have already brought value to Bud Perrone’s life. The horse has given him the chance to recall the good times with his brother, to share his brother’s life with friends, and to reunite this Brooklyn-dwelling Louisville native with the racing excitement with which he grew up. Whether Stately Victor wins or loses on Saturday, Brooklyn’s going to have a hell of a Derby party.