Tommy Bonner wouldn't normally interrupt a Saturday afternoon to watch a horse race on television. Then again, the Macalester College vice president of advancement doesn't normally have the kind of vested interest he held in the Blue Grass Stakes earlier this month.
Bonner had gotten a phone call from Jerry Crawford, vice chairman of the Macalester Board of Trustees and chairman of the school's capital campaign. The longtime racehorse owner pitched a novel idea. His 3-year-old colt, Paddy O'Prado, could lock up a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a first- or second-place finish in the Blue Grass. And if he did, Crawford said, he would donate his share of any Derby purse money to Macalester.
Paddy O'Prado came in second to make the Derby field. When he runs for the roses Saturday, Macalester president Brian Rosenberg and his wife will be in Louisville, cheering alongside Crawford in the owner's seats. Bonner will be watching in St. Paul, where he plans to organize a viewing party for the first four-legged fundraiser in school history.
"It was kind of interesting to get that call,'' Bonner said. "The Derby isn't always something that's up front at Macalester. But people have been saying they're definitely going to watch, and they'll be pulling for Paddy. He'll be running for Macalester.''
The college could have some serious money riding on the horse. The purse for last year's Derby was $2,177,200, and the top five horses get a share. Last year's winner, Mine That Bird, took home $1,417,200, while fifth-place Chocolate Candy earned $60,000.
Crawford owns a 20 percent interest in Paddy O'Prado. The rest is owned by nine friends in the Derby Dreams I partnership he assembled in 2008, when he bought the colt for $105,000. The horse has earned $264,497 so far, giving Crawford his first Derby starter after 35 years in the game.
"As a racing veteran, it's the dream of a lifetime,'' said Crawford, an Iowa native and senior partner in the Des Moines law firm of Crawford & Quilty. "I knew once we had a horse on the Derby trail that I'd want to combine two of my passions: horse racing and Macalester. It just feels right.
"This is the first time I've put together a major partnership, and I did it because I wanted to buy some colts and try to get one into the Kentucky Derby. And lo and behold, on our first try, here we are.''
Crawford graduated from Macalester in 1971 with a degree in speech and political science. He said his time on the St. Paul campus laid the foundation for his successful career in law and politics, and he has maintained close ties to the school.
His Donegal Stable runs horses at top tracks around the country, including Saratoga and Churchill Downs. Two years ago, Crawford created the Derby Dreams group with the aim of competing at racing's highest level. He bought eight yearlings at a Kentucky sale, including a gangly gray, whose potential enticed him to bid $5,000 over his intended limit of $100,000.
Paddy O'Prado ran seventh in his first career start last summer. Since then, he has never finished out of the money while racing primarily on turf. The colt got his first victory in the Palm Beach Stakes on March 6, and his solid second-place finish in the Blue Grass secured his Kentucky Derby berth.
It also put Paddy O'Prado into Macalester's capital campaign, which is called Step Forward.
"The day after the Blue Grass, I knew what I was going to do,'' Crawford said. "I was talking to an NBC [TV] crew, and one of them said, 'Paddy O'Prado took a big step forward this weekend.' I thought to myself, 'Yes, God, I'm listening.'''
The Derby Dreams I partnership is bringing 340 friends and relatives to Louisville this week, including Macalester president Rosenberg. Crawford said David Deno, chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, e-mailed Rosenberg to say he expected to see him on TV with a mint julep in one hand and a cigar in the other. Rosenberg replied that he would draw the line at the cigar.
He and Crawford hope Paddy O'Prado will be smoking his opponents Saturday. "I'll be wearing Macalester orange and blue in my tie, even though it clashes with our green and yellow racing colors,'' Crawford said. "You know, some of our partners had never even been to a horse race before. To see how much fun they're having, to know I'll have my wife and kids here with me, I'm having the time of my life.''
Rachel Blount • email@example.com