As Chester Thomas left the paddock shortly before Saturday’s 146th running of the Kentucky Derby, his family collectively sang “My Old Kentucky Home” loudly and perhaps a little off-key.
But for Thomas, the level of the singing was irrelevant. Instead, it was a time for reflection, and a time for honoring the history of the Derby.
“I’m sure people were looking at us and thinking we must be crazy,” he said. “But we didn’t care. We sang it loud and together. It might not have sounded that good, but it sure sounded perfect to us.”
Moments later, that same family could be heard again, this time screaming for their horse — Mr. Big News — as he turned for home in the Run for the Roses. Ultimately, the 46/1 underdog would finish third behind Authentic and Tiz The Law.
The race capped off a special — albeit surreal — weekend for the Thomas family. On Friday, By My Standards cruised to an easy and impressive victory in the $400,000 Alysheba Stakes as part of the Kentucky Oaks undercard.
“Really special weekend,” said Thomas. “When Gabe (jockey Gabriel Saez) made his move and we turned for home, I thought we were going to win the Derby. The screams you were hearing on TV, I’m certain that was us.”
The Derby was marked by protests that kept moving closer and closer to the Churchill race track as the day progressed. The moment wasn’t lost on Thomas.
“You could see the helicopters circling above, and they kept getting closer and closer as the day went on,” he said. “We were very aware of the situation. There were hundreds of armed protesters right outside, so yeah, that will get your attention. But I can’t say enough about the police and the National Guard that kept everyone safe and ensured we were able to pull this off without incident.”
Thomas expressed disappointment that Gov. Andy Beshear elected to not attend the Derby and the presentation of the Governor’s Cup.
“I’m beyond disappointed he didn’t even show up,” said Thomas. “There was no way in hell I was going to miss it.”
Thomas said the empty stands due to the pandemic provided a different feel to the Derby, to say the least.
“So strange,” he said. “But it’s still the Derby and it was still special. We had some pundits questioning our choice to run this horse in the Derby, but I think his performance shows he was in the right race. I’m not the type of owner to run a horse unless I think we have a chance to win.”
The big question looming for Mr. Big News now is where will the horse run next. Most indicators point to the Saturday, Oct. 3 Preakness — the third and final leg of the Triple Crown.
“We are going to be pretty methodical about what’s next, but I could see us running in the Preakness,” said Thomas. “We will need to see who all is in, and we have to take into consideration the speed bias that comes with that track.”
As for By My Standards, all signs point to the horse heading to Keeneland in Lexington to run in the Breeder’s Cup Classic in November.
“I think the Classic is the obvious next race for By My Standards,” said Thomas. “A win there would pretty much seal the deal on Horse of the Year honors among older horses in the country.”
Thomas said that despite the lack of spectators, one of the most special things that came from this past weekend’s experience was the texts, calls and overall support his camp received from friends across the world.
“We had people in Canada, from England and of course from home pulling for us and reaching out to us,” he said. “That’s something Jennifer and I are extremely grateful for and will remember forever.”