Owner Durant Talks Racing Background, Kentucky Derby Hopeful Run Classic

The Life
Run Classic steps up in class to compete Saturday in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby for owner Tom Durant and trainer Bret Calhoun. (Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography)

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers, and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 147th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

weekend TV schedule

Thursday, March 18: post time varies on TVG

Friday, March 19:
post time varies on TVG

Saturday, March 20:
6 p.m.-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Sunday, March 21:
2 p.m.-2:30 p.m. ET on FS2; 2:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. ET on FS1;post time varies on TVG

Owner Tom Durant, a member of the Texas Hall of Fame, is featured this week. Durant, 71, continues to maintain a heavy schedule as he oversees 20 car dealerships. His father, J.V., despite having only a third-grade education, started the family on the path to prosperity by establishing a wrecking yard behind their house.

Durant and trainer Bret Calhoun will ask Run Classic to take a big step up in the $1 million, Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

The son of crack sprinter Runhappy, a $475,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale of 2-year-olds in training last March, broke his maiden in a 1 1/16-mile victory on Feb. 16 at Fair Grounds in his second career start.

Run Classic is listed at 12-1 as part of a field of eight in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby. He drew post three and will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr.

Mandaloun, who will be piloted by Florent Geroux, will break from post six as the 8-5 favorite.

The Louisiana Derby offers 100-50-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the first four finishers, meaning the top two are virtually guaranteed a berth in the expected 20-horse field in the Run for the Roses.

PEDULLA: I read that your father, J.V., started the family business despite having only a third-grade education. It sounds as though your family has lived the American Dream. Please tell us about that.

DURANT: His dad died when he was 9 years old. It was a family of six kids and he was the oldest. He had to quit going to school.  

PEDULLA: It sounds as though J.V. was an extraordinary man.

Durant (Courtesy of Classic Chevrolet)

DURANT: My mom (Opal) had the brains and my dad knew how to trade. He knew how to put deals together. Between the two of them, they did quite well.

PEDULLA: What led you to enter Thoroughbred racing as an owner?

DURANT: Just winning. Now that I’ve gone outside of Texas, it’s been interesting. The competition is well above what I was used to, and the quality of horses is much better than the quality of horses I ever owned before.

PEDULLA: How many horses do you have in your operation?

DURANT: It’s over 20 running right now. I have six broodmares.

PEDULLA: I see that you have recently spent big for racing talent. Is that a change for you or have you always believed in spending big?

DURANT: No, it’s a change. It started five years ago.

PEDULLA: What is spurring that?

DURANT: If I want to finish on top, I need to spend the money to get there.

PEDULLA: What drew you to Run Classic?

DURANT: I used to buy everything myself. I have a buyer now. His name is Josh Stevens, and he’s the one who put me onto the horse. He’s a big horse. He’s got a long stride. His manners are very good for a stud horse.

PEDULLA: Do you worry at all that the horse might have distance limitations?

DURANT: I did until we ran him in this last race. You’ve got to see the horse. It’s a standout. The day we unloaded him off the trailer I said, ‘This is the best horse I’ve ever owned.’

PEDULLA: I see he did not debut until mid-January. Why did he get a fairly late start relative to the rest of his class?

DURANT: When you buy at an in-training sale, we normally give them two months off after the sale. When we first shipped him to the track, he had a little problem. I can’t even tell you what it was. We brought him back home. It was minor. We brought him back to the track. Yes, we did get a late start. I would like to have a couple of more outs in him. If he steps up in this race, then it’s going to work in my favor. If he needs a bit more experience, then this is the race to give him more experience.

PEDULLA: I see you spent $950,000 on a Quality Road colt at Keeneland’s 2019 September yearling sale. What is his name and how is he doing?

DURANT: His name is Find New Roads. Pedigree-wise, he’s got the strongest pedigree of any horse I’ve ever owned. He’s actually on the [Louisiana Derby] undercard. We ran him once. He hopped out of the gate. He didn’t have a shot and the jockey just kind of made that a work for him.

PEDULLA: You also spent $530,000 on an American Pharoah colt as a 2-year-old in training in 2019. May I ask you to update us on him?

Bret Calhoun, trainer of Run Classic. (Eclipse Sportswire)

DURANT: I’m still trying to find out about him [Summer Splash]. This horse is very talented. But when we first put him in training, he bowed [a tendon], which is not good. We took a long time trying to get him back to the track. He just had his first work this past week.

PEDULLA: What is the thinking in testing Run Classic in the Louisiana Derby?

DURANT: I’m banking on him winning.

PEDULLA: It sounds as though you are optimistic despite your odds.

DURANT: I’ve always got optimism. I think the horse will step up this week. Whether he’s got the maturity to go out there and win, we’ll find out.

PEDULLA: How important is the Kentucky Derby to you?

DURANT: I’ve never run in the Kentucky Derby. I’ve run on Derby day. It would be nice to have a horse in the Derby.

PEDULLA: Do you dream of winning the Derby?

DURANT: You always think about it, but you certainly don’t dream about it. You’ve got to have the horse that will get you there and I think this is one of those horses. But we’re going to find out Saturday.

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