Obnoxious Boston Fan

Wicked Strong won't horse around in Derby

Wicked Strong, with Rajiv Maragh aboard, took the top spot at The Wood Memorial Stakes horse race at Aqueduct Race Track in New York, on April 5, 2014.
Wicked Strong earned $5,900 for The One Fund with his win in the Wood Memorial last weekend.

Wicked Strong is one wicked pissah name for a racing horse, especially one that won $590,000 in the Wood Memorial last weekend and will be running in the Kentucky Derby, all while helping to raise money for The One Fund.

The three-year-old colt is owned by Centennial Farms of Beverly, Mass. The firm's president Don Little Jr. was born and raised in Boston but now calls Ipswich home. Wicked Strong was purchased by Centennial at yearling sale in 2012. Little and his partners had a $375,000 colt in search of a racing name. He was originally called Moyne Spun, a combination of the names of his mom and dad. The name was meant to be temporary.

"Hard Spun" was the consensus choice, given the horse's ability to lay low off the pace and then surge at the end. But that was before Patriots' Day 2013. Soon, "Boston Strong" was everywhere. It seemed the perfect name for this horse.

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"Absolutely, this was in reaction to the way things were at the time. We were having trouble with the name. Then tragedy happened and 'Boston Strong' came to mind," Little recalled Tuesday. But he quickly learned that name had already been claimed by another New England stable.

Little was stuck. Ten days after the attacks, Little's wife, Holly, was at a Bruins game with their friends, Kim and Charlie. The Bruins would beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 that night, but lightning also struck inside their suite at TD Garden.

Charlie, it turns out, is quite the horseman and was once a member of the United States Equestrian Team. Kim and Holly were trying to come up with an equine moniker that might help convey a message of the area's resiliency and strength. The hope was for this horse to carry that message of Boston's toughness throughout his racing career.

"Kim told my wife: 'Boston Strong' is great, but it should have been 'Wicked Strong' right from the beginning because everyone knows that 'Wicked' is so Bostonian.' I got a text that said: 'Kim just came up with a great name' and we submitted it," Little recalled.

Not only did Kim come up with the horse's name, but Charlie, as Holly's host, was stuck with the tab. However, Charlie is doing OK. His NHL team made it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals and played its own substantial role in the region's civic recovery.

When it comes to breeding and racing, the only sure bet is uncertainty. Winning the Wood and earning a spot in the Kentucky Derby means everything has to line up perfectly for any 3-year-old.

"This name didn't come from any promotional angle," Little said. "We thought it would be great for the people of Boston, and for the victims of the attacks and their families, as well as the sport. This was another way to recognize the victims of the tragedy, and keep the message going. It's hard for people in this day and age to remember these things. People have to remember the victims, families and first responders. We did this to keep the message going. There's no way we could have predicted it would have gone like this."

Little said Tuesday he and his partners have upped the ante for the Triple Crown races and will now donate five percent of the horse's earning in those races to The One Fund. The guaranteed purse for the the 1 ¼-mile Derby is $2 million, with $1.5 million guaranteed for both the 1 3/16-mile second jewel at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 17 and the 146th Belmont Stakes over its brutal and unforgiving 1 ½-mile course on June 7 in Elmont, N.Y.

Boston Strong is owned by Sovereign Stable of Manchester, N.H., whose president Matt Gastas used to watch the Marathon from the finish line in Copley Square during his days at Babson College in the late 1990s. Gastas bought the horse in early April 2013 but hadn't named it yet. "I must have walked that (Boylston) street a million times before. I know that area really well and have stood in the area where the bombs exploded," he told Blood-Horse.Com. "When we flew back into Boston, the story was all over the news. While unpacking I was watching TV and they were all talking about the slogan 'Boston Strong.' I thought how great it would be to name the horse that. So I logged on to The Jockey Club website, never thinking the name would be available, but it was."

Here's a look at Boston Strong from the Sovereign Facebook page:

Boston Strong was ill part of last season and is easing his way back onto the track.

It would be absurd to suggest that the owners of either horse were trying to somehow capitalize on what happened last Patriots' Day. At the track, the only financial risk greater than betting on a horse is owning one. Those who own Wicked Strong and Boston Strong are using part of their horses' winning to benefit The One Fund. The partners who invested in Boston Strong donated $1,000 to the fund and will donate 5 percent of the horses future winnings to the charity.

Wicked Strong earned $590,000 with his 3 1/2-length victory going away in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct [N.Y.] Racetrack this past Saturday. That meant $5,900 for The One Fund.

Wicked Smart has raised $7,046.10 for The One Fund, based on math and his career earnings of $704,610.

The win at the Wood also gave the colt 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points [guess they have those nowadays] and boosted him from 49th to 3rd in the Derby standings, ensuring his spot in the field. His next race will be the Derby, held at Churchill Downs in Louisville [Ky.] on May 4. He'll run for both roses and gobs of cash. Wicked Strong, who is by Hard Spun out of Moyne Abbey, has a Kentucky Derby winner in his mare's bloodline. Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby and Peakness in 1999, but injured himself when running third in the Belmont.

Wicked Strong, like the city that inspired his name, overcame his share of challenges to reach the Derby. The horse broke its maiden at Belmont last fall but hadn't won since. He ran a disappointing ninth at the Derby prep Holy Bull at Gulfstream in January and followed that with fourth-place finish. "A lot of people could have given up on him," Little said. "He overcame adversity and a lot of doubt and put it together in the Wood. This is the horse we have been waiting for. He showed it as a 2-year-old but like a teen-age kid, some develop slower than others. [Wicked Strong was an April foal and all horses turn a year older on Jan. 1]. He had to put it together mentally."

Wicked Smart was a 9-1 upset winner at the Wood, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over the 1 1/8-mile track. It was, Little said, the perfect race for Wicked Smart, who is trained by Jimmy Jerkens. Neither Centennial Farms nor Jerkens have ever had a horse run in the Kentucky Derby.

Little said Wicked Strong, under the guidance of Jerkens, appears to be peaking at the perfect time. "He was much more professional [in the Wood]. He handled the circumstances of being Post One, standing in the starting gate, and putting it all together. It was a pleasant surprise. But was it total shock? No."

"It's extremely exciting. We wouldn't be going to the Derby if he was second in the Wood or if he was 20th on the list [of qualifying points]. You've got to have a legitimate chance. This is an entirely different race," Little said.

Wicked Smart is considered a "stalker" in racing parlance. He likes to run slightly behind the leaders and then let go with a big stretch run. Wicked Smart picked up speed down the home stretch at the Wood [3 MPH, Little said] and the extra 1/8th of a mile in the Derby could afford him even more of a chance to accelerate and drive at the end.

"It's like anything, you hope for the best," Little said. "Horses are horses - they are individual. This worked out as best as you could have hoped. With horse racing, that doesn't always happen."

Little sees substantial meaning in what happened after the Marathon last year in terms of how both people and organizations, like the Red Sox and Bruins, helped the region heal and generate support for both the victims' families and the wounded survivors.

Karma can be kind as well as being a, well, you know.

"Do I believe that the Red Sox would have won the World Series if that didn't happen? I truly believe they would not have. Tragedy pulls communities together, people working with each other. " he said. "You support everyone you can. Life it short. It makes people sit back and take a deep breath and enjoy life. It's short-lived. Through our method and entry into thoroughbred racing, that's how we work. Partnerships. People come together. You have to have the same goal. It doesn't always work out. But if you stick to your guns, stay on track and stay loyal, eventually things should work out in your favor."

In a word: "Determination."

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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