04/07/2010 11:00PM

Not just partners, they're fans


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Most people in the 40515 zip code know John Spicer as the guy who delivers their mail, but he is also a Thoroughbred owner who could be headed to the Kentucky Derby on May 1. If Spicer's Triple Crown hopeful, Noble's Promise, performs well in Saturday's Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, Spicer will be bringing a lot of people to the Kentucky Derby.

Noble's Promise has 24 owners in his Chasing Dreams Racing syndicate, but his entourage Saturday will number about 50 people - investors and their friends and relations.

Many of the Chasing Dreams owners are like Spicer, a 48-year-old Lexington resident who bought a 7.5 percent interest in Noble's Promise for $3,000 last year. Noble's Promise made that back long ago and has covered his expenses with $793,000 in earnings.

Spicer has followed his horse from Keeneland to Presque Isle Downs to Santa Anita, attended every race, and witnessed many of the workouts. The highlights so far: a half-length win over Aikenite in the Breeders' Futurity in front of a home crowd at Keeneland and a close third behind Vale of York and Lookin At Lucky in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"What's good about this group is that we're in it because we love the horse and love the game," said Spicer. "You can go to Keeneland as a fan and see them wrapping horses' legs and doing different stuff, but when you get to where you're going to the barns in the morning and watching them work out, you see a lot different side."

That is the kind of experience Chasing Dreams co-manager Kelly Colliver had in mind for the syndicate members.

"We don't make decisions about how the horses are trained, we just want to be around the horses," said Colliver, who co-manages Chasing Dreams with Rob Brewster and Ron Holmberg. "We want to go to the barn and feed him carrots, get to know the riders and the grooms. These are the people that are why the horse is as good as he is.

"There are 50 of us heading to Arkansas, and the first thing everybody wants to know is when we can see Noble," he said. "Friday morning, everyone can't wait to go to the barn and just stare at him."

Colliver has packed winner's circles before. Two years ago, she put 26 partners together in Livin the Dream Racing to buy Dream Empress. Like Noble's Promise, she was trained by Ken McPeek. When she won the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland, about 80 people crushed into the win picture.

There hasn't always been sunshine. In early 2007, another partnership horse, Noble Asset, broke down fatally during a workout while Colliver and Brewster were watching. The insurance check, when it came, proved a dividing line for some of their fellow investors. A few decided the heartbreak of losing a horse was too much to risk again, but Colliver, Brewster, and Marsha Springate decided they would try again. Joined by breeder Jeff Miller, they put their insurance proceeds into a weanling resale prospect, and they resolved not to give their hearts away this time.

"We were very much in love with Noble Asset," said Colliver, a 40-year-old real estate appraiser in Lexington. "He was such a handsome and determined colt, and we had had such high hopes for him. So when Rory Callis selected this wonderful little weanling for us, we tried not to get attached to him, because we thought we were going to sell him."

Callis, a bloodstock agent, paid $10,000 for Noble's Promise at the 2007 Keeneland November sale and remembers him as "very racy-looking." The partners entered Noble's Promise in the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's August yearling auction, but when Hurricane Fay hit Florida the week of the sale, few lookers came by the barn. Several of those who did found Noble's Promise too small.

"He was a little on the small side, but I'm a firm believer that it's not about the size of the horse, it's not about the price you paid for him, it's all about the individual," Callis said.

The partners bought their yearling back for $25,000 and named him Noble's Promise in honor of Noble Asset.

When the resale fell through, Miller bowed out of the partnership because he didn't want to race. But the rest of Noble's Promise's original investors, plus Spicer and 19 others, are savoring what Colliver calls "very sweet lemonade" after the bitter loss of Noble Asset. The partners are very much attached to Noble's Promise now.

"He grew on us, and he grew on everybody he came in contact with," Colliver said. "I have a completely different outlook on the Derby now. It used to be something other people went to, but Noble has done every single thing right."

Saturday, May 1, is a mail delivery day, but Spicer said he hopes he will be on a different route - at Churchill Downs with Noble's Promise.

"We still have three weeks, so I just hope he stays healthy," Spicer said. "We sure are having fun."