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Boston lawyer cases the Derby

Long shot ‘Paddy’ has Savage excited

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / April 28, 2010

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A week ago, he was just a face in the crowd, a Harvard guy competing in a quintessential Boston event, the Marathon. Today he again will be a face in the crowd — but the crowd will be smaller and the stakes higher.

For Joe Savage, a partner in the Boston law firm Goodwin Procter, the draw for the 20-horse field in Saturday’s 136th running of the Kentucky Derby is another chapter in an improbable dream.

“Does our guy have a chance?’’ asked Savage yesterday.

“Our guy,’’ in this case, is a 3-year-old colt named Paddy O’Prado, who was purchased in the Keeneland yearling sale in the fall of 2008 by a group of 10 guys from Iowa and Joe Savage. “I’m going to be right there [at the draw] and on Saturday I can’t wait. Who’s doing better than me?’’

If Paddy O’Prado can stun the experts and actually win — or even finish in the money — few people are going to argue with Savage, who grew up in Deerfield as a horse racing fan but didn’t let that get in the way of his education, which included the University of Virginia law school after Harvard.

Despite his success in the business world, Savage wanted to partake in the fun-and-games part of his life.

“I was down at the Cape talking to a buddy of mine, telling him that I always wanted to get involved with owning a horse,’’ said Savage.

The friend was a Boston lawyer named Jack Corrigan, who put Savage in touch with a lawyer in Iowa named Jerry Crawford. Crawford had connections in Massachusetts; his wife was from Deerfield.

Crawford told Savage about a group called Derby Dreams he was forming.

“It was a 45-page prospectus,’’ said Savage. “I read it and I was hooked. I bought into it for about 5 percent.’’

It was Crawford who came up with idea of getting a Kentucky Derby starter out of the eight yearlings he had purchased in the 2008 auction for a total of $475,000. Of that group, Paddy O’Prado was the most expensive at $105,000.

When Savage’s friends heard about his venture, they were stunned.

“People were flabbergasted,’’ said Savage. “People who knew me knew I was the worst handicapper out there.

“I used to go to the old county fairs out in Northampton where they had horse racing. I used to stand by the $50 win window and just listen. I figured if someone was going to bet $50 on a horse, they knew what they were doing. I would then run down to the $2 window and bet that horse to show.

“My handicapping has not improved, but the people are fascinating. What other sport can you find Sheikh Mohammed standing next to a guy mucking out a stall? Just utterly fascinating.’’

Paddy O’Prado represents the ultimate dream for the group. The horse, whose sire was a money-making stallion named El Prado, has developed at a slow but steady pace. He was winless in three starts as a 2-year-old but finished third on the turf in the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga last summer.

“The change in him is phenomenal,’’ said Savage, who has watched with excitement as Paddy O’Prado matured this winter into a Derby hopeful, finally breaking his maiden in the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream.

He showed more promise this month, taking the lead in the stretch in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland before 40-1 long shot Stately Victor roared past everyone in the final 16th of a mile.

Trained by Dale Romans and ridden by veteran Kent Desormeaux, Paddy O’Prado is a reasonable choice for handicappers looking for a long shot.

“When I first saw him back at Saratoga, there was a buzz around him,’’ said Savage. “I’ve watched him mature. He’s won over a quarter of a million dollars.’’

Chances are, Savage might make a trip to the $50 win window Saturday and see if he can get even more back on his investment.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

Kentucky Derby

When: Saturday, 6:24 p.m. post time

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

TV: Ch. 7, 5 p.m.