Fort Worth, Texas – More than 20,000 race horses were born in 2017. Sixteen of them are scheduled to race Saturday in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and one has multiple ties to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Neither Michael Grimm nor Kevin Mahoney expected to receive news that Winning Impression, a gray gelding they own alongside 26 other partners, was eligible to run in the Derby. Only 20 horses qualify for the Triple Crown event each year, and after finishing seventh in the Runhappy Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9, Winning Impression didn’t appear to have enough points to earn a berth.
His standing at No. 24 in the Derby points race was the result of getting bumped from fourth place to third in the Arkansas Derby following the disqualification of the winner, and there were no other opportunities to gain points.
But it’s not uncommon for owners to pull horses from the Kentucky Derby in the weeks before the race, and enough dropped out this year to open a spot for Winning Impression.
Grimm was in a rehab facility in downtown Fort Worth when he got the call. After surviving a major heart attack in 2016 and a stroke this year, he hopes Winning Impression’s Derby run can bring some positivity to 2020.
“When I started this 33 years ago in 1987, I never thought the dream would take that long,” he said. “[Saturday], that dream becomes a reality. Win, lose, draw, I’m going to be excited. It’s going to be extremely exciting. This is something I’ve waited for my whole life.”
Mahoney didn’t find out until five days later. He was on vacation at the time. “When we left, I had thought, ‘There’s no way we can run in the Derby. We didn’t run well in Ellis. We don’t have enough points,’” he said.
The decision to race Winning Impression in Kentucky was an easy one for Grimm and Mahoney. This is the first Derby horse for both, and they have confidence in the product from WinStar Farm, which is owned by Dallas billionaire Kenny Troutt. It helps that Winning Impression lives at Churchill Downs and will “wake up tomorrow morning in the same bed he sleeps in every night, so he’s going to be comfortable,” Mahoney said.
Grimm believes Winning Impression (50-1 on the morning line) will be “close in the stretch. Whether he can get to the top three or four or five horses, I don’t know. He always gives it his best, and we definitely think he’ll be closing hard when they’re coming down those last hundred yards tomorrow afternoon.”
“He loves the Churchill track, and we know he’s going to love the extra distance,” he added.