It wasn’t the finish they had hoped for, but the Hronis family’s first Kentucky Derby was memorable just the same.
As co-owners of one of the race favorites, Rock Your World, Kern County-based Hronis Racing, LLC, was well-represented at Churchill Downs for the 147th Run for the Roses, with at least 15 from the Hronis family in the stands Saturday to show their support.
Unfortunately, a bit of bad luck prevented their horse from meeting some lofty pre-race expectations.
With 9-2 odds to win when it entered the starting gate — second only to favorite Essential Quality at 3-1 — Rock Your World was slow to break at the start, was bumped twice exiting the gate and never fully recovered, finishing 17th in the 19-horse field.
“That cost him the race,” said Kosta Hronis, who is the primary owner of the horse along with his brother Peter. “He got bumped on both sides. He’s a young horse; he’s only had three races. I don’t think he knew how to react after that. You know he’s only kind of broke out of the gate really easily and nicely, and obviously he hasn’t raced against 19 horses before. He’s been in fields of five and six horses, so … ”
Heading into the race, Rock Your World was 3-0, winning all three races at Santa Anita in the past four months, including the Santa Anita Derby, to gain considerable momentum heading into Saturday’s event.
“He didn’t break as good as he should have and he got hit on both sides … and then he just kind of galloped around the race track,” Hronis said. “I just think he was out of it at that point because it just wasn’t anything he had experienced before.”
Starting in gate 15 to the right of Essential Quality, which wound up placing fourth, Rock Your World was slow to exit the gate and wound up being wedged between two horses as part of a domino effect. No. 18 Super Stock, which started in gate 17, began to veer to his left, and forced No. 17 Highly Motivated into Rock Your World’s path just seconds into the race. The two horses converged with Essential Quality, and Rock Your World stumbled a bit while retreating a few steps back.
“Just a little bad racing luck,” Hronis said. “You know, that happens. And he was a little excited in the paddock before. I think that there’s 51,000 people here, you know, that probably bothered him a little bit. Again, just being a young horse with just three races under his belt. So I just think there were probably some different things that bothered him. He traveled great. He seemed to like the track all week, you know, working out, but I just think the bumper cars at the beginning of the race just got him a little out of his comfort zone. And I think at that point he was done.”
Rock Your World seemed to have recovered and moved toward the top 10 on the outside, but there was contact again with another horse to his right, and the Hronis-owned horse faded from contention, finishing 24 lengths behind winner Medina Spirit.
“When you have to rush them up a little bit to get them to where maybe in a spot where they’re a little more comfortable, they do use up energy,” Hronis said. “(It was his) first time going a mile and a quarter, you know none of these horses have gone a mile and a quarter before. So it’s a first for everybody and you find out kinda who can do the distance and who can’t.”
Although obviously a bit disappointed, Hronis said he enjoyed sharing his first Kentucky Derby with his family, which included his wife Stephanie, his five children, and Pete and his family. Hearing his horse announced over the PA was especially impactful for Kosta Hronis.
“That was fun,” Kosta Hronis said of hearing his horse announced. “You get a little choked up.
"In 12 years of racing I guess I’ve seen so many races and watched so many races, I don’t get as fired up because I understand this business is just one of those things. How the day goes and what position you get, how they break and how they like the horse track that day. You know there’s so many variables that you can’t control so you just try to sit back and enjoy the race as best you can. (But) it was great to be with the family all day. It was a great experience. Everybody was super excited.”
So what’s next?
Kosta Hronis said he plans to visit with Rock Your World on Sunday morning before the horse flies back to his stable, housed at Santa Anita Racetrack. Hronis added he expects to be back on his farm by noon Sunday.
“We’ll fly him back to California, regroup and see what we want to do next,” said Hronis, who has yet to decide whether to compete in the next leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes on May 15 at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland.
“The problem with the Preakness is, it’s two weeks away,” said Hronis, who celebrated a few races before the start of the main event when Flagstaff — owned by Hronis Racing and Lane’s End Racing — won the 86th running of the $500,000 Churchill Downs race. “We’re usually four or five weeks in between races, especially after going a mile and a quarter. Now is that a possibility? Ya, because I don’t think he used up a lot of energy (Saturday). So we’ll really take a good look at him (Sunday) and see how he came out of the race and make sure he’s in good shape and everything’s fine, and then we’ll make a decision as a team after a couple of days. We’ll probably decide that about midweek.”