05/02/2016 2:16PM

Hovdey: Running for roses and a maiden victory

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There will be a lot heard in Louisville this week about Wood Memorial runner-up Trojan Nation trying to become the first maiden to win the Kentucky Derby in 83 years. His arrival at Churchill Downs on Monday was sure to be greeted by winks and derision, while trainer Paddy Gallagher would be following on Tuesday. Was he ready for the ridicule?

“I’m used to that,” Gallagher said with a laugh.

It takes a bit more than running a longshot in a horse race – even a race like the Derby – to make Gallagher flinch. Raised in Northern Ireland’s County Tyrone, not far from Londonderry, Gallagher and his teenage mates were regularly rousted by British troops stationed there to maintain order during the bloody civil strife between Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities.

“You’d be just walking down the street or they’d pull you off a school bus and soldiers would put you up against a wall and search you,” Gallagher said. “It would happen all the time.”

After that, a little Twitter trolling is no worse than a hangnail.

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Gallagher was asked if Trojan Nation, beaten narrowly in the Wood by Outwork, knew what he was in for, diving headlong into a 20-horse Derby field.

“There all in for it, one way or another,” Gallagher said. “You just hope he gets there healthy and happy and then see what happens. Obviously, there’s a lot more horses and a much tougher field than the Wood. I just hope he runs halfway respectable.”

Gallagher may not take himself seriously, but his horses are royalty, and he treats them accordingly. Trojan Nation, a son of Street Cry out of champion Storm Song, has run six times, with two thirds to go along with the Wood.

“I didn’t think he’d be a maiden this long,” Gallagher said, “but I was wrong.”

Legends swirl around maidens in the Kentucky Derby. Nationalore, the story of 1998, was a son of Video Ranger owned by Myung Kwan Cho, whose family fled North Korea when he was an infant to settle in the south. Cho emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1970s and parlayed a clothing export business into a string of Thoroughbreds, then became so enthralled by the game that he ended up training, with considerable help from assistants.

It was Cho’s name on the Churchill Downs program alongside the 0-for-15 record of Nationalore. The fact that he had been third to Favorite Trick in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and third to Real Quiet in the Hollywood Futurity did not impress horseplayers, who made him 109-1. He finished ninth.

Over the next two years Cho tried to win almost any kind of race with Nationalore, but the maiden label stuck. On July 12, 2000, making his 26th start, he clipped the heels of another horse on the first turn of a maiden race at Hollywood Park and suffered a irreparable shoulder injury. Nationalore was euthanized, having finished second or third 14 times and earning $318,227.

Great Redeemer seemed on his way to a similarly grim fate in the wake of his farcical effort in the 1979 Kentucky Derby for owner James Mohamed. He was 0 for 6 entering the race and ran like it, slowing to a lazy gallop at the end and finishing so far behind the next-to-last finisher that jockey Richard DePass had to avoid photographers who thought all runners had been accounted for.

After the Derby, Great Redeemer bounced around the leaky-roof circuit in rock-bottom claiming races. At one point, he suffered what appeared to be a knife wound in his side. He was sold, neglected, and virtually abandoned in a Florida field when he was discovered by trainer Bob King and his wife, Diane, who nursed Great Redeemer back to good enough health to win a race at Thistledown in 1985.

Great Redeemer’s true resurrection came as a fox hunter and show horse for Diane King. By the age of 15, as reported by Bill Nack in Sports Illustrated, Great Redeemer had accumulated more than 100 show ribbons and was known as something more than the embarrassment of the 1979 Derby.

No maiden has won the Kentucky Derby since 1933, when Brokers Tip took the last of the four accumulated by Col. E.R. Bradley. After Behave Yourself, Bubbling Over, and Burgoo King, the colonel probably thought he could win with anything, but even his most ardent admirers were skeptical.

“As a foal, Brokers Tip was close to a cripple,” wrote William H.P. Robertson. “… that he got to the races at all is a miracle.”

And yet he was just a shade under 9-1 in the field of 13, the price reflecting the respect held for anything Bradley ran for the roses. Brokers Tip uncorked the race of his life to beat Head Play by a nose, but only after a horseback wrestling match between their jockeys was sorted out and Bradley’s colt declared the winner.

Brokers Tip never won another race. He ended his stud career in California, where he died in 1953, after which his skeletal remains were donated to the veterinary school at the University of California-Davis and used as a study tool for three decades.

The bones of Brokers Tip were later buried in the Kentucky Derby Museum Garden, where they rest in the shadow of the Churchill Downs grandstand alongside the remains of Barbaro, Carry Back, Swaps, Sunny’s Halo, Dust Commander, and Eight Belles.