He Bought His Long-Shot Horse for $11K. Now, Kentucky Derby

Larry Demeritte will be just the 2nd Black trainer since 1951 to saddle up a horse at Churchill Downs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 3, 2024 5:25 PM CDT
2nd Black Trainer Since Early '50s Heads to Kentucky Derby
Trainer Larry Demeritte talks to a reporter at Churchill Downs on Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky.   (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

If Larry Demeritte is looking for a positive sign heading into his first Kentucky Derby as a trainer, it's right where his horse is assigned. Long-shot West Saratoga is staying in Barn 42 at Churchill Downs, the same location where Seattle Slew was before he won the 1977 Derby and went on to sweep the Triple Crown. It was the first Derby that Demeritte attended. Now, he's the second Black trainer since 1951 to be saddling a horse in the big race, which has its 150th running on Saturday, per the AP. The other, Hank Allen, finished sixth with Northern Wolf in 1989. Black trainers had a strong showing during the Derby's early years, winning seven of the first 17 from 1875 to 1891.

"We're so grateful to be here and enjoying every single minute," Demeritte says. Everything is meaningful to the 74-year-old from the Bahamas since he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and underwent chemotherapy. His father was a trainer in the islands, and Demeritte still carries the accent of his home country, where he was the leading trainer for two years. "My motto is, 'I don't buy cheap horses. I buy good horses cheap,'" he says, smiling. The costliest horse in the 20-horse Derby field is Sierra Leone, purchased for $2.3 million. West Saratoga was purchased for just $11,000 and is the pride of Demeritte's 11-horse stable at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. The colt has earned $460,140.

"I used to pray to get to the derby," he says. "I feel like I am blessed with this horse." Demeritte has his eyes on the sky for Saturday, when the forecast calls for a 43% chance of rain. The gray colt has never run on a wet track.

  • Favorites: Fierceness is the current favorite, followed by the aforementioned Sierra Leone. After that, things are wide open, notes the AP in a separate story.
(More Kentucky Derby stories.)

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