Sam F. Henderson isn't a newshound, says he doesn't have the television on news channels 24/7, and there's certainly nothing in the pedigree of a horse by Mineshaft out of an Afleet Alex mare that has any connotation to news. He just liked the name -- Suddenbreakingnews.
On Saturday, from Hot Springs, Ark., to Odessa, Texas, and on out to Portland, Ore., those with the closest interest in Suddenbreakingnews will be hoping he stops the presses with a victory in the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and continues his march toward the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
Suddenbreakingnews comes off a rousing victory in last month's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, where he rallied from last to first in a 14-horse field. That gave him three wins and three seconds in six starts and stamps him as one of the elite prospects for both the Rebel and next month's Arkansas Derby.
"You don't get horses like this very often," Henderson, 78, said via telephone from Odessa, where he lives. "I've had a lot of stakes horses that have done well, but I've never had one like this."
Henderson, nicknamed Sonny as a child, has had good success over five decades with both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses and is still active with both breeds. He was an immediate success with Quarter Horses. The first horse he bought, Dream Rocket - purchased as a yearling when he was just 27 years old - ended up competing in the 1966 All-American Futurity. Later, Henderson in partnership stood that horse's stallion, the influential Rocket Bar.
Henderson has finished second twice in the All-American Derby, in 1975 with Jet Comanche, who was in a dead heat for second while beaten by a nose, and in 1983 with Bartendress, who was interfered with and was moved up to second via disqualification after finishing third. Jet Comanche was the champion 3-year-old gelding of 1975, and Bartendress was the champion 3-year-old filly of 1983.
His other highly accomplished Quarter Horse was Watch A Native, who won the 1976 Kansas Derby.
With Thoroughbreds, Henderson's best runner may have been the speedy Matching, a multiple stakes-winning mare in the early 1980s whom Henderson bred and then privately sold. He also bred and sold Icy Morn, a local legend in the Southwest in the mid-1990s, when she won 20 of 39 starts while racing primarily in Arkansas, New Mexico, and Texas.
Henderson, who has interests in oil and gas as well as cattle, backed off for a while, battled health problems, and five years ago got married for the fourth time.
Henderson said of his wife, Helen, "I ran and played with [her] when we were little kids, but I didn't see her for 50 years.
"One day, she came into my office, and I said, 'I know you,' " he said. "We're cut from the same ilk -- all Scotch-Irish, raise cattle, grew up on horseback. The last five years have been the best of my life."
With a new wife and newfound good health, Henderson said, "I decided that now that I'm feeling good, I had to do something."
He dived back into racing with a handful of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Henderson said one of his favorite Thoroughbred trainers from years ago was Don Von Hemel, and through mutual acquaintances, he was able to place his runners with Von Hemel's son Donnie K. Von Hemel.
Suddenbreakingnews was purchased as a yearling for $72,000. Henderson said he "had a hell of a time trying to name horses." He liked the name Breaking News, but that was rejected by The Jockey Club, owing to two Thoroughbreds having been granted that name in this country since 1995. Henderson's office manager, Janice Redding, suggested Suddenbreakingnews. There were no other horses with that name, and it was approved.
Once Suddenbreakingnews started running, his name caught the attention of Molly Young, a reporter for The Oregonian, the major newspaper in Portland. Young recently has covered such heavy material as the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. But she's not a disinterested bystander in Suddenbreakingnews. Her grandfather is Don Von Hemel, and her uncle is Donnie K. Von Hemel. Her mother, Pam, is Don's daughter, Donnie K.'s sister.
"I never wanted to go into racing," Young said from her office at The Oregonian, where she has worked for five years since graduating from the University of Nebraska. "I always wanted to go into journalism.
"When this horse was relatively young, I saw one of his races and thought the name was ironic," given her line of work.
Henderson had no idea his trainer had a niece in the news business. But he'll take whatever good-luck charms he can find.
"He's the best horse I've ever had," Henderson said. "He's a blessing. My wife says the Lord sent him to you."