, Salem, MA

April 14, 2014

Locally owned horse, named for marathon, headed to Derby

Wicked Strong won Wood Memorial to qualify

By Matt Williams
Staff writer

---- — BEVERLY — “Park the car in Harvard Yard” might not be the most popular phrase related to a Boston accent much longer.

It’s getting passed at the turn by “wicked” — as in Wicked Strong, a locally owned thoroughbred that has qualified for the Kentucky Derby and is quickly becoming the talk of the horse-racing community.

Beverly’s Centennial Farms owns Wicked Strong, a colt that Farms President Don Little Jr. and his wife renamed in honor of the Boston Marathon tragedies a year ago. Initially, the couple was hoping to call him Boston Strong, but that name was already taken by another horse.

Little’s wife, Holly, was at a Bruins game with team principal Charlie Jacobs and his wife, Kim, when they came up with the idea to use “wicked” instead.

“It was the second night after the marathon, and I think it was Kim that came up with it initially. We didn’t want it to be promotional or anything like that. It was a result of what was going on in the city,” Little said.

“From what we’d seen early in the training, we knew he could be a good horse. He was a tough guy, and that represented the city.”

The rest has been history for Centennial Farms, which has never sent a horse to the Kentucky Derby previously. Wicked Strong qualified by winning the Wood Memorial at the Aqueduct in New York; he was a 9-1 underdog, yet won by 31/2 lengths.

The owners are donating 1 percent of Wicked Strong’s earnings to the One Fund.

The horse was third in the point standings for Kentucky, which takes place May 3. There were two races over the weekend that could change the standings a bit, Little said, but Wicked Strong has punched his ticket to the Bluegrass State.

“You couldn’t have scripted this any better, with the timing around the marathon and the name,” Little said. “It doesn’t happen every day, not only having a horse going to the Derby, but having one that has a chance. Winning a big race like the Wood doesn’t happen often.”

Wicked Strong’s winning time in the Wood (a 11/8 mile race) last weekend was the fastest in that race since 2005, and he finished with a strong kick. That indicates the 3-year-old horse, now a graded stakes winner, should be well prepared for the longer Kentucky Derby, which is 11/4 miles.

“It’s an encouraging sign. He’s run against some Derby contenders,” said Little, who bought Wicked Strong in September 2012.

He was known at Moyne Spun then, after his parents Hard Spun and the mare Moyne Abby. He was initially reared in Virginia, and when winter came, he went to Florida.

Jimmy Jerkens has been Wicked Strong’s trainer since last June. He’s the son of horse-racing legend Allen Jerkens, and, thus far, his hands-on approach to training has helped bring out the best in Wicked Strong.

“He’s a master horseman,” Little said. “He’s not typical in that he’s very hands-on. He knows how to analyze talent, get horses on the right track ... and he’s done it with this one. (Wicked Strong) was really focused on the stretch run of the Wood. Jimmy’s phenomenal.”

Horses race several times in the run-up to an event like the Kentucky Derby, not to mention Triple Crown follow-up races, the Belmont and Preakness Stakes.

Wicked Strong had a disappointing run at the Holly Bull Stakes in Florida in January, but like the city that inspired his name, he bounced back.

“It was a little perplexing; we thought maybe something physical was bothering him, but nothing was,” Little said. “We continued the training, and he’s started to blossom. He’s come around mentally, (and) physically he looks very mature. We pride ourselves on having the horse come first, so if there’s a stumbling block, we’ll give him the time he needs. We hope he continues his success.”

One thing is certain, both for Boston and for the Kentucky Derby: This year’s race won’t just be the most exciting two minutes in sports.

It’ll be “wicked” exciting.