- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

A baseball man is the owner of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner.

Not the high-profile New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who had one of the favorites in last year’s Derby but was shut out of the money and didn’t even have a horse in this year’s Louisville classic.

No, the owner of Barbaro — the horse that pulled away from the field in the home stretch and captured the first leg of thoroughbred racing’s triple crown — is a man who made his mark in baseball in places like Spartansburg, S.C., Portsmouth, Va., and York, Pa.

Roy Jackson was once a minor league baseball owner and executive, but he is a major league horse owner, and his horse Barbaro — with former Maryland jockey great Edgar Prado in the saddle — may have saved the Kentucky Derby from turning into a minor league sideshow.

“Everyone dreams of winning the Kentucky Derby,” said Jackson, who broke into baseball as an intern under Philadelphia Phillies general manager John Quinn in the late 1960s and later owned teams in York and Tucson, Ariz., while also getting into the horse racing business on the side.

Barbaro was an 8-1 shot to win when the 132nd Derby started yesterday afternoon at Churchill Downs. Maryland horse Sweetnorthernsaint, Brother Derek, Point Determined, Sinister Minister and Lawyer Ron all were expected to compete for the win.

When Barbaro crossed the finish line with a crowd of more than 157,000 roaring, none of those favorites was in sight. Bluegrass Cat, a 30-1 shot, finished second, while Steppenwolfer, at 16-1, came in third and Jazil, at 24-1, ended up in fourth place.

If Barbaro had stumbled significantly — and he did briefly coming out of the gate — the trifecta payoff on those three horses would have come close to last year’s bizarre Derby finish, when the 50-1 Giacomo won and a 71-1 shot named Closing Argument finished second, while 4-1 favorite Afleet Alex came in third.

Once that race ended, so did any hopes for the Triple Crown, the gimmick that still draws attention to thoroughbred racing, even after three straight disappointments of War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones falling short in the Belmont Stakes and no Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Racing doesn’t need long shots winning the Kentucky Derby on a regular basis. It needs a superhorse, a star who can capture the attention of the nation until the Belmont Stakes in June. Barbaro, who was undefeated in five starts before yesterday’s race, has the chance to be that superhorse and possibly just the second undefeated Triple Crown winner, with 1977’s Seattle Slew the only other horse to accomplish that feat. He won so convincingly — by 6 lengths, the second largest margin of victory in Derby history — that hours after the race ended, it was difficult to foresee who would knock him off two weeks from now at the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

It could be a repeat for Philadelphia sports fans of the Smarty Jones ride two years ago, although the stories surrounding this horse aren’t nearly as compelling as the Triple Crown contender from 2004. Jackson’s farm is located in West Grove, Pa., about an hour outside Philadelphia, and Jackson grew up in Newtown Square in suburban Philadelphia.

For Jackson, who also served as president of the Pacific Coast League, International League and Eastern League during his time in baseball, it’s a long way from putting on fireworks shows and booking entertainment acts in minor league ballparks.

“I had a lot of ups and downs as a minor league owner, good years and bad years,” he said. “But nothing ever compared to this.”

Here’s one particular down that may be near and dear to the hearts of Washington baseball fans — when Jackson first owned the York minor league franchise in 1967, it was an affiliate of your Washington Senators. It was a team so bad it has taken on mythical proportions. Jackson said he believes the team went 35-84, or somewhere in that vicinity, and had a pitcher named Dick Such, a future Senators pitcher (he appeared in 21 games for the Senators in 1970, with a 1-5 record and a 7.56 ERA) who had an impressive 2.81 ERA in Jackson’s first year. But Such also went 0-16, as the club was so dismal that it was shut out 29 times and had four no-hitters thrown against it.

Jackson must have been speechless after his first year as a minor league owner. He was yesterday, but for different reasons.

“We have been in racing for a long time, and getting here was something special for us,” he said. “To win it, I don’t have the words to express it right now.”

How about Louisville is a long way from York.

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