- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Bobby Hurley has Kentucky Derby fever. The former Duke guard has found the roses as intoxicating as winning two NCAA championships with the Blue Devils.

"It's like a Final Four," he said. "All the good players are here."

Hurley will enter Songandaprayer in Saturday's 127th Derby after spending $1 million on the colt last year. His wife hung up the phone when Hurley disclosed the price. Leslie Hurley thought her husband was crazy. His friends agreed.

"A lot of people didn't understand paying that type of money for an animal," Hurley said. "But this is a business, and I took a chance with him. That's how I played basketball. If you feel strongly about something, then take a chance with it. I'm glad I did."

Hurley needed something to replace his basketball career after retiring from the NBA last year. A near-fatal car crash just 19 games into his rookie season in 1992 left him with a collapsed lung, shattered shoulder blade, broken ribs and a torn knee ligament. Re-injuring that knee ligament during a comeback last year forced Hurley to quit after a two-year sabbatical.

Hurley attended races in New Jersey during his college summer breaks. It seemed like a natural extension of his sporting life. Hurley started Devil Eleven Stable, named after his former college team and jersey number, in 1998. However, the most expensive purchase was $180,000 before Songandaprayer. When the bidding grew feverish at the Florida sale, Hurley refused to yield. Songandaprayer was the nation's fifth-most expensive 2-year-old last year, but Hurley was willing to risk a few nights on the couch for a potential Derby horse.

"When you put up that kind of money, you've really got to have a really strong feeling about the horse," Hurley said. "I just felt there was something special about him… . When we bought him, we had intentions of great things for him, but no matter what, it's still hard to believe you can make it this far."

It hasn't been a bad investment. Songandaprayer has earned $369,480, which means nearly $300,000 for Hurley after the 10 percent shares paid to the jockey and trainer. While Songandaprayer's dam, Alizea, earned only $17,569 off two modest victories, his sire, Unbridled's Song, heads a regal bloodline that includes Fappiano, Caro and Unbridled. Songandaprayer probably will earn in the mid-six figures annually when he becomes a stallion by 2003. Hurley's gamble became a shrewd move, an investment that probably would triple by taking the Derby. Indeed, the $700,000 winner's share would nearly pay off Songandaprayer outright.

Songandaprayer will be a mid-priced contender when post positions are drawn today. The 3-year-old grandson of 1990 Derby champion Unbridled earned his contender status by winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 17. Songandaprayer never trailed in the race.

"Just that feeling of seeing your horse in a big race coming down the stretch and you know he's going to win it's the ultimate feeling," Hurley said. "It stacks up with all of those basketball moments."

Songandaprayer finished fifth in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 10 when he raced five-wide on both turns. A better trip would have greatly narrowed the 10*-length loss to Monarchos, who's among the Derby leaders. He rebounded with a sharp second in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 10.

But can Songandaprayer's early speed endure over the 1 1/4-mile race, which is one-eighth mile longer than most stakes? Early front-runners seldom win the Derby, and a sharp early pace could leave Songandaprayer fading by "Heartbreak Lane" at the top of the stretch.

It's two minutes and change. Hurley knows how long that can feel.

"It's definitely more nerve wracking watching your horse run because you're not in any control of what's going on," he said. "You can't talk to your horse physically to ask how he's feeling that day."

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