LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- They are shoes of cobalt blue, and they are shiny. According to the wearer, they bring good luck.
"When you have lucky shoes, you wear them all day," Rob Dyrdek remarks.
Standing on the backside at Churchill Downs on an overcast November morning before the Breeders' Cup World Championships, the 37-year-old Dyrdek cuts a fashionable figure in his smooth gray suit -- the blue shoes forming a sharp contrast against the stable area's sandy footing. He is far away from MTV's hip-hop scene or the world of professional skateboarding, but he still brings some swagger to the racetrack to watch his thoroughbred run.
In about nine hours, a 2-year-old filly named Weemissfrankie will make the biggest start of her young but brilliant career. Dyrdek is feeling the nerves as an equally green but enthusiastic member of the partnership group responsible for funding her campaign. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies is a prestigious event with a purse worth $2 million -- and a seasonal championship for this runner -- on the line.
Add racehorse owner (and aficionado) to Dyrdek's other titles -- American professional skateboarder, actor, entrepreneur, producer, philanthropist and reality TV star. The story of how he got involved in thoroughbred racing has a normal enough start -- in 2009, a good friend and longtime horse owner named Joe Ciaglia Jr. brought him into the game -- but like most projects Dyrdek sets his mind to, thoroughbred ownership took a decidedly zany twist.
"I was trying to come up with a really funny concept for a television episode, and I thought Wouldn't it be a great idea if I bought my own horse and jockeyed it in its first race?" Dyrdek recalls. "So I set out on a journey to do that."
Heaven forbid that Dyrdek use his real name while achieving something most racehorse owners never even think of trying to attempt. Under the pseudonym "Bolt Speedman" for an episode of his show "Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory," he rode Mega Heat, the first horse he owned in partnership with Ciaglia and his late friend Frank Alesia, in a race staged at Hollywood Park on June 30, 2009. Of course, he won.
"It's one of the scariest things I've ever done in my life," Dyrdek says. "When the break from the gate and you've gotta grip the mane, you sit, and on the second step it pops you up out of your seat, and then all the sudden you're going 40 miles per hour. The reason I was able to do it -- it was the fourth time I'd ever rode the horse when I rode him in the race -- is because of that skateboarding center of gravity. I'm so used to letting everything move below me, it was incredibly easy to ride this horse. But it was still the scariest thing I've ever done in my life."
"She's just gone on to become this superhorse," Dyrdek said. "Frank's spirit in 30 years of being involved in racing is in this story. The fact that this partnership had never won a Grade 1, then won two in a row in our second or third races with this filly, speaks to the legacy of his career."
For a man who set 21 separate Guinness World Records for skateboarding as part of his former show (Rob & Big), the game of thoroughbred racing presents a new set of challenges -- and Dyrdek plans to take them on.
"It's not just shoes and a suit," he says. "It's a lifetime commitment to the sport. I'm not going to all of the sudden be like, 'Anyone want to buy my horses?' I knew the moment I got into it that it was going to be something I did until the day that I die. There are so many aspects of it that I absolutely love. It's like an escape and a great hobby for me. Just going to the track and the thrill of making it down to the winner's circle is a really, really fun thing that I enjoy. I'm in this game for life."
Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets. You can reach her via her website.