LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Mike Harrington is content watching the hubbub of Kentucky Derby week from afar. The 71-year-old trainer is happily tucked away in a non-descript barn that lacks even the teeniest view of Churchill Downs’ magnificent Twin Spires.
Let the visitors be entertained by Bob Baffert’s jokes or eavesdrop on Todd Pletcher’s training tidbits.
Harrington prefers laying low with Creative Cause, likely to be one of the top betting choices for Saturday’s race.
The gray-roan colt never has finished out of the money in any of his eight career races, posting four wins, two seconds and two thirds. He’s among the best of five strong California-based horses in the expected 20-horse field.
Of course, Baffert and Pletcher hold their usual strong hand, with two Derby horses each.
Harrington has but one.
“This is probably two derbies for me,” he said Tuesday. “It’s my first and my last.”
He certainly has the pedigree to be here.
Harrington followed his father, grandfather and great-grandfather into the business, starting out training and racing quarter horses at bush tracks as a teenager. Later, he became a veterinarian and worked the racetracks until returning to training full time nearly 20 years ago.
Creative Cause is the best horse he’s had.
“Everybody grows up dreaming of going to the Kentucky Derby, and most people realize they’re probably never going to make it, and I never thought I would make it,” he said. “You got guys like Baffert and Pletcher who have most of them [horses], so for a little guy like me it’s pretty rewarding.”
The colt is owned by Heinz Steinmann, an 80-year-old credited with bringing skiing to California from his native Switzerland. He owns Mountain High resort in Wrightwood, Calif., located in the mountains north of Los Angeles. He’s been Harrington’s main client for years, and the two teamed to run Swiss Yodeler, who won some of California’s biggest stakes races and was a well-known stallion in the late 1990s.
Creative Cause has mixed it up on the Derby prep trail with Baffert’s top colt, Bodemeister, and trainer Doug O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another. He beat Bodemeister to win the San Felipe Stakes, and lost by a nose to I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby last month. As a 2-year-old, Creative Cause beat I’ll Have Another in the Best Pal Stakes and last fall finished third behind Derby rivals Hansen and Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs..
“He falls under the radar, which I like. I don’t want him to be the favorite, I don’t want everybody talking about him,” Harrington said. “Everybody should be talking about Bodemeister, although my horse outrun him. Everybody should be talking about I’ll Have Another, although I outrun him also. Those three horses have traded punches, so who knows?”
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