When Texan Erich Brehm was looking to send a horse to Louisiana about six years ago, Keith Desormeaux was recommended.
Brehm admits he hadn’t heard of a trainer named Desormeaux, but he certainly knew of jockey Kent Desormeaux, the three-time Kentucky Derby winner.
“I said OK. I liked the last name,” Brehm said. “Obviously everybody knows who Kent Desormeaux is. … But back then, Keith had a small string of horses in Louisiana.”
Today Brehm ranks among Keith Desormeaux’s biggest fans, praising the trainer’s horsemanship, eye for a horse, candor and understanding that not every owner has an oil well to pay for a horse habit. And the owner formed that opinion that long before Desormeaux picked out a bay yearling that they got for $17,000 at Keeneland — with Texas Red a year later winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
A fan of the jockey as well, Brehm thinks it’s time that Keith Desormeaux is known as more than Kent’s older brother. The two certainly will be a major story line the three-month run up to the 141st Kentucky Derby, where the Texas Red camp is hoping for a Desormeaux double-down Derby on May 2.
The Desormeauxes were the first trainer-jockey brothers to partner for a Breeders’ Cup triumph. That has never happened in America’s favorite horse race. Siblings teaming with even a Derby starter is unusual, last happening when Dixieland Heat was 12th in 1993 for Randy and Gerald Romero. You have to go back to 1964 for Jimmy and Nick Combest, seventh with Mr. Moonlight, before that.
“I just love it,” said Brehm, whose four partners in Texas Red are Dr. Gene Voss, Lee Michaels, Wayne Detmar and Keith Desormeaux. “I love Keith and Kent. It’s a great story, something all the partners love. We’re just thrilled to be part of this thing. I’d love to see Kent get his fourth Derby, Keith get his first. And let us all be there having fun.”
Keith Desormeaux has a slightly different take, judging how he reflects on the Juvenile victory, his first in a Grade I race and only his second graded stakes.
“It really doesn’t have anything to do with my brother and I,” said the Louisiana Tech University graduate, who turned 48 Thursday. “It’s an accomplishment both of us, as individuals, strived to complete. Doing it together is gratifying, but it’s not what I think about. It’s the monstrosity of the accomplishment that gets to me. Finally, after all these years of buying yearlings and trying to learn what works, conformation analysis, pedigree analysis and study — and a little bit of good luck — culminating in the success we knew we could accomplish.”
His loquacious brother, who of course has the benefit of having won multiple Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races, very much thinks about winning on his brother’s horse.
“I’m just trying to keep my feet on the ground,” said Kent, 44. “It’s just so exciting to think that my brother and I are on the Derby trail. I’m still out here riding ponies every day because I can’t wait to win another one. It’s incredible to think I could be doing it for my brother. I think I’m still in shock that I actually won a Breeders’ Cup for my brother.
“It’s one thing for a jockey to show up Derby Day. It’s another thing for a trainer to show up. It’s a lot harder for them. But it’s a completely different thing that brothers from Maurice, La., could win the Kentucky Derby. I just find that incredible. Where we lived we had nothing but crawfish fields and backyard ponies.”
Texas Red narrowly lost the 2-year-old championship to American Pharoah, who beat Texas Red in Santa Anita’s Grade I Frontrunner but missed the Juvenile with a foot injury. While obviously disappointed, Brehm said, “We already are so happy to be where we are. Somebody said, ‘That really cost you in the value of your stallion.’ That only really cost us if we don’t do anything more.”
Texas Red makes his first start since the Juvenile in Sunday’s San Vicente at Santa Anita. At seven-eighths of a mile, the distance doesn’t favor him. But Keith Desormeaux things it will “pick his head up and get him fired up” for his second start, likely to be the Fair Grounds’ $400,000 Risen Star at 1 1/16 miles in New Orleans on Feb. 21.
“This is not an all-in type of deal,” Keith Desormeaux said. “It’s a step in the direction of the Derby, a means to an end. It doesn’t mean we’re not trying to win it, but it’s not our ultimate goal.”
Still, the trainer, who has horses at both the Fair Grounds and Santa Anita, said he tries not to be consumed thinking about May 2.
“Derby fever is real,” he said. “I’ve got 30 other horses to consume my thoughts. But yes, we do think about different scenarios and the right way to that race in peak shape. With that in mind, you also have to consider beyond May 2. Basically we just want him to be fresh, fit and peaking on the first Saturday in May, and hopefully we’re there to battle on through the rest of the Triple Crown.”
Texas Red brings far more than the brothers’ historical angle to the Derby. His pedigree and late-running running style suggest he’ll thrive at 1 ¼ miles over Churchill’s long stretch. He’s clearly gotten better in each start. He’s a son of the Gainesway stallion Afleet Alex, who encountered trouble when third in the 2005 Derby but then won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to be 3-year-old champion.
“So for us to be so successful in his 2-year-old year, is just more reason for us to be excited,” Keith said. “The horse is big, he’s well-conformed. He’s got the angles that suggest the more distance the better. For him to be as fast and successful as he was at the top level as a 2-year-old, just makes us crazy — crazy — enthusiastic about his 3-year-old year.”