05/15/2013 12:41PM

Preakness Stakes: Hornung high on Titletown Five

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Titletown Five, owned in part by football legend Paul Hornung, is winless in three starts this year but will try for an upset win in Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – His image is not difficult to find in his hometown. There are the bigger-than-life statue, the stories-high wall mural, the encased jerseys with his signature, and so much more.

But Paul Hornung is not just a living legend in Louisville. As the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame and a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Green Bay Packers, he is a national treasure, a worldly man as familiar with the streets of New York or Baltimore as his birthplace in the hardscrabble Louisville neighborhood of Portland.

“I loved going to Baltimore back when I was playing – scored five touchdowns there one day,” Hornung said on a recent weekday at Churchill Downs, recalling a pivotal showdown against the mighty Colts in December 1965. “We won the Western Division with that game. It might’ve been one of my best games ever.”

Hornung, 77, said he has made an annual pilgrimage to Baltimore for many years, sometimes for the Preakness but mostly for those autograph-signing conventions that help the famous stay rich.

“My agent has me go to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, a lot of places for them,” Hornung said. “But the big one’s in Baltimore every year. I always go to that one.”

If Hornung can get lucky Saturday, he might find himself being asked to autograph quite a few racing programs after the Preakness. Hornung is a co-owner of Titletown Five, the cleverly named colt who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux and saddled by trainer D. Wayne Lukas as probably one of the longer shots in the 138th running of the middle jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

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“We’re going to be first or second,” Hornung said. “Wayne says the horse is doing great. If he says the horse is doing great, that’s good enough for me. I’ll be betting my money.”

Hornung was scheduled to arrive Friday in Baltimore, along with his wife, Angela, and other partners in Titletown Five, a speedy colt whose name combines the nickname for the city of Green Bay, Wis., with Hornung’s jersey number. He and Lukas have been friends for some 50 years, dating to Lukas’s tenure as a basketball coach in Wisconsin and Hornung’s glory years as a Packer.

“With our common backgrounds in sports and the way we both liked racing, we really hit it off,” said Lukas, who is five months older than Hornung. “It was a natural. When I was living in California and I’d come in for the Derby, we’d get together and have some fun, us and Ron Kramer, Pete Elliott, some of those guys. Then when I moved to Louisville, Paul and I became even closer.”

Lukas said Hornung has “dabbled” in horse ownership through the years, but nothing he has owned has had “anything close to” the kind of ability that Titletown Five has shown. In his fourth and final start last year at 2, the son of Tiznow won a seven-furlong maiden race at Churchill by nine lengths, earning a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

That victory prompted Hornung to start dreaming aloud about having his first starter in the Kentucky Derby, the race he has attended faithfully since his days at Flaget High School and the race he holds dearest to his heart. However, those hopes were dashed by a series of setbacks that began with minor knee surgery for the colt shortly after his 2-year-old finale and ended with his third straight defeat at 3, an uninspiring fourth-place finish in the April 27 Derby Trial at Churchill.

Lukas, a five-time Preakness winner who also will run Oxbow and Will Take Charge in the race Saturday, said Titletown Five has yet to live up to his potential.

“He’s a good colt,” Lukas said. “We wouldn’t be sending him to Baltimore if we felt otherwise.”

According to David Miller, a Louisville businessman who owns a small percentage in Titletown Five and assists Hornung with some of the administrative and logistical details, Hornung has the largest slice of the partnership, with 30 percent. The other major owners are Ed Martin (30 percent) and Lukas (25 percent).

Accounting for the remaining 15 percent are Miller, whose late father, Paulie Miller, was Hornung’s football coach at Flaget; Margaret Shade, Hornung’s goddaughter; and another football icon, Willie Davis.

Davis, who starred on the defensive line, also is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a longtime Packer teammate of Hornung’s. Davis, 78, will not travel across the country from his home in Los Angeles for the race, according to Lukas.

“Getting on those airplanes isn’t as fun for those guys anymore,” Lukas said. “Willie is a great, great guy, very successful. We got to be good friends during my years in California. He’d come out to Hollywood Park to play the races all the time. I can’t say enough good things about Willie Davis.”

Hornung is something of a fixture in the Gold Room (for serious horseplayers) at Churchill, not only during live race meets but also for offseason simulcasting. There are few things he enjoys more than handicapping and betting; it might be said that his infamous yearlong suspension in 1963 from the National Football League for gambling was not a fluke.

Known for years as an enormously engaging public speaker, Horning no longer works as many gigs as he once did. Indeed, the golden years seem to be taking their toll on “The Golden Boy,” as he has been known since his youth. He moves slowly, owing partly to his years on the gridiron, and his memory is not what it once was.

Nonetheless, his name and deeds will be renowned long after this Preakness and 50 more are run. Three books have been written on his incredible life, and a fourth is in the works, he said. He considers this trip to Baltimore to be an unexpected treat, a proverbial cherry on top.

“We won’t be tearing up the town the way I used to,” he said. “We’ll go out to a couple of nice dinners and enjoy ourselves. Hopefully, the night of the race, we’ll have something to celebrate.”