Donegal takes ride of a lifetime

Tomorrow's $10 million Dubai World Cup, the richest horserace in the world, boasts an international roster of contenders. One horse in particular, a strapping chestnut colt named Dullahan, has attracted the attention of the world, and has given his group of owners the experience of a lifetime.

Jerry Crawford's Donegal Racing began as an ownership syndicate comprised of a group of friends, and the partnership quickly found success at the highest levels. Of their first group of eight horses purchased in 2008 for less than $500,000 collectively, four competed at the Graded Stakes level and together that group of eight horses earned nearly $5 million in prize money.

The partnership's first major success story was the flashy gray colt Paddy O'Prado, winner of five graded stakes events, including the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes and who finished third in the Kentucky Derby in 2010.

"In the beginning it was primarily Jerry's friends and family from Iowa," explained Donegal Chief Operating Officer Julie Cauthen, "but it's grown a lot thanks to Jerry and the success of the horses on the racetrack."

While each horse at Meydan boasts a contingent of supporters, the group representing Dullahan is markedly different from the rest, in both their enthusiasm and numbers.

"Donegal Racing partners are a fun-loving and infectiously enthusiastic group of owners who love racing, and particularly live racing, which is so important to our sport right now," said Cauthen. "They're so eager to be part of the living racing action all over North America as well as internationally. They bring friends and family and make it fun. We will have 54 in our group tomorrow at Meydan!"

That fun and enthusiastic group has made their presence known this week at Meydan Race Track. Each morning they come out in force to watch their prize colt be put through his paces, beaming with pride as he floats across the track under regular exercise rider Tammy Fox or puts on a show with a playful buck or dance as photographers from all reaches of the globe snap away.

The Dale Romans-trainee has earned a reputation both in the U. S. and abroad for his playful antics on the racetrack, but has proven time and time again that when the starting gates open, he's all business. The half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird has won three Grade 1 races to date, the Breeders' Futurity and Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Never did I think a group of people who didn't know each other when this all started could have this much fun together.

-- Donegal Racing partner Joe Savage

What has struck both the media and fellow owners alike about Donegal, however, is their passion not just for their horse, but for the sport. While some owners come to the track simply to watch their horses train, the Donegal contingent arrives long before Dullahan hits the track and stays well after he's been taken back to the stable area.

They watch the other World Cup day contenders as though they're celebrities walking down the red carpet at the Oscars. They are also quick to engage their fellow horse-owners -- those who will be their rivals on World Cup day -- not with boastful banter about whose horse is better, but with genuine interest in their peers' horses and lives, and always being sure to wish them the best of luck before parting ways.

"Never did I think a group of people who didn't know each other when this all started could have this much fun together," said Donegal Racing partner Joe Savage.

When the horses reach the gate for the eighteenth running of the Dubai World Cup, hall of fame jockey Gary Stevens will be in the irons on Dullahan. Should he win, the cheers from "team Donegal" may be audible all the way back in the U. S.

"He's ready," said Cauthen. "We've got a tremendously talented and experienced jockey in Gary Stevens, so we just need a clean trip, then it's up to him. It's a thrill to have a horse in a race of this caliber, but they don't just give away a ten million dollar purse. We're humbled just to be involved."

Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Central Kentucky..