When his trainer, Brian Koriner, claimed Hoovergetthekeys for $32,000 in September, new owner Carl Odegaard liked the horse but wasn't fond of the name.
"I've gotten to like it since then," Odegaard said Thursday. "I think it's kind of cute now."
A couple of trips to the winner's circle after six-figure stakes races can make any name more appealing. At Golden Gate Fields, Hoovergetthekeys won the $150,000 Golden Gate Derby on Jan. 13, then returned last Saturday and won the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby. Their cheap claim having harvested $215,780 in purses, Koriner and Odegaard, the San Jose retiree with the only horse he's ever owned, are on the Kentucky Derby trail.
"I got a big thrill when this horse broke his maiden, and I've been thrilled more and more each time he's won," Odegaard said. "He's continuously improving with every race."
Hoovergetthekeys--named, Odegaard has heard, by his original owners in honor of a faithful dog that responded to that command--will make his next start a month before the Derby, in the Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park near Dallas on April 7. Besides being a $500,000 race, the Lone Star Derby is the front half of a potential $1-million bonus. A horse that wins the Texas race and one of the Triple Crown races earns an extra $750,000 for the owner and $250,000 for the trainer.
Koriner has other incentives. "I thought about going to the Blue Grass [at Keeneland on April 14], but the Lone Star race looks easier," he said. "From what I hear, Fifty Stars [the Louisiana Derby winner] is the only major contender that will be running in Texas. Also, I hear that the surface at Lone Star might be more comparable to the tracks in California.
"Now it's for real. Before he won the last race, it was just a dream. He doesn't have to win the Lone Star race, he only needs to exit it sound. The Texas race is not the goal."
Bred by Marty and Pam Wygod, Hoovergetthekeys was a $45,000 yearling purchase who ran his first race for trainer Dean Pederson at Bay Meadows on Sept. 28. Odegaard, 65, had been a $2 bettor for 40 years and wanted to buy a horse. Impressed with Koriner's 2000 record--48 wins, at a 21% clip--he contacted the trainer and told him he had up to $30,000 to spend.
Hoovergetthekeys, a gelding sired by Mt. Livermore, was 10-1 going six furlongs.
"He had had some solid works, but nothing that jumped off the page," Koriner said. "But he had good breeding and seemed to have some ability. You go to Florida or someplace and you have to pay at least $100,000 for a good horse. We took a shot because of the breeding."
Mt. Livermore, who stands at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., for a $50,000 stud fee, raced for trainer Wayne Lukas in 1984-85. He won four stakes, none beyond seven furlongs, and ran third, behind Precisionist and Smile, in the 1985 Breeders' Cup Sprint. His progeny include two Canadian horses of the year--Mt. Sassafras and Peaks And Valleys--and Eclipse Award winners Eliza and Housebuster, who was twice voted North America's champion sprinter.
Hoovergetthekeys' dam is Desert Orchid, a durable horse that earned $347,648 while winning 13 races--but no stakes--in 53 starts. In the race he was claimed, Hoovergetthekeys finished sixth. He never had a chance after getting bumped at the break, causing his jockey's foot to slip out of the stirrup.
A month later, Koriner brought him back in another claiming race. Hoovergetthekeys won by 1 1/2 lengths.
"We were lucky," Koriner said. "We could have lost him for $45,000. We were lucky that [Pederson's barn] didn't come back to get him."
After two starts, Hoovergetthekeys did not run for a claiming price again. Overall, he has three wins, one second and one third in seven starts.
"All this has taken me by surprise," said Koriner, whose 35-horse barn consists mostly of claimers. "I thought we might have claimed a nice horse, but there was no way that I thought he'd develop into a Derby horse."
Koriner, 34, has been training thoroughbreds for four years. Like Kentucky Derby fixtures Lukas and Bob Baffert, he got his start training quarter horses. Koriner won more than 300 races and 19 stakes at Los Alamitos. Among his better horses at the Orange County track were Speedy Lunch, Red Hot Rhythm, Elie Rey Beduino and Daily Triple.
Elie Rey Beduino was 40-1 winning the Breeders Derby in 1992; Daily Triple, at 24-1, won the Governor's Cup Derby in 1994. Hoovergetthekeys was 100-1 in many Nevada future books early in the year, and now he's still a longshot, though down to 40-1, on today's Derby line in the Daily Racing Form. Los Alamitos is not Churchill Downs, and Hoovergetthekeys is not Secretariat, but there's still one thing to be said about Brian Koriner: He knows his way around a derby at a price.