Larry Demeritte is the second black trainer since 1951 in the Kentucky Derby – NBC10 Philadelphia

If Larry Demeritte is looking for a positive sign heading into his first Kentucky Derby as a trainer, this is exactly where his horse has been assigned.

West Saratoga resides in Barn 42 at Churchill Downs, the same location Seattle Slew was before winning the 1977 Derby and then winning the Triple Crown. It was the first Derby that Demeritte attended.

Now he is the second black trainer since 1951 to saddle a horse in the major race, which will be held for the 150th on Saturday. The other, Hank Allen, finished sixth in 1989 with Northern Wolf.

Black trainers dominated the early years of the Derby, winning seven of the first seventeen from 1875-1891.

“We are so grateful to be here and enjoying every minute of it,” Demeritte said.

Everything has meaning for the 74-year-old from the Bahamas since he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and underwent chemotherapy. His father was a trainer on the islands and Dermeritte still carries the accent of his home country, where he was a trainer for two years.

“My motto is: ‘I don’t buy cheap horses. I buy good horses cheaply,” he said, smiling.

The most expensive horse in the 20-horse Derby field is Sierra Leone, the second choice of the morning line, bought for $2.3 million. West Saratoga, purchased for just $11,000, is the pride of Demeritte’s 11-horse stable at the Thoroughbred Center in nearby Lexington. The colt has earned $460,140.

“He’s getting better with every start,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good horses and this horse really suits a lot of them.”

It is the first Derby for West Saratoga owner Harry Veruchi.

“I bought my first horse in 1982, and two weeks later he won at the Centennial Race Track in Littleton, Colorado,” Veruchi said. “I thought: this is easy. And now, to be here, who would have thought? I don’t know anyone who has raced in the Kentucky Derby or even anyone who has won any stakes.”

West Saratoga is named after the street in Littleton where Veruchi grew up. It is located six blocks from the Centennial racetrack, which closed in 1983.

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The only one with Derby experience in their group is jockey Jesus Castanon. He finished fourth aboard Shackleford in 2011. They set the pace and led on pole eight, but were overtaken by eventual winner Animal Kingdom.

“I thought I was going to win it,” Castanon said. “In my mind I was going crazy.”

Demeritte has ridden horses on the Derby undercard in recent years.

“I’ve been practicing,” he said, smiling. ‘I always prayed to go to the Derby. I feel like I have been blessed with this horse.”

Demeritte has its eyes on the sky for Saturday, when the weather forecast calls for a 43% chance of rain. The gray foal has never run on a wet track, but his father has. Exaggerator finished second in the 2016 Derby and went on to win the Preakness and the Haskell. Both races were held on sloppy circuits.

“This is really amazing how we got to this position with this horse,” Demeritte said. “I hope people will see our story and become interested in this sport, because this horse proves that anyone with a dream can make it to the Derby. phase.”

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