Keith Desormeaux & Texas Red

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Keith Desormeaux walked out of Thursday’s Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico and – after wondering why the ever-quotable Eric Guillot didn’t attend – started talking horses. “The horse who changed my racing life is Texas Red and there’s nobody even close,” the trainer said. “That horse was a gift from God ever since the hammer dropped at the sale.”

Desormeaux laughed, grasped for words, shook his head. He first saw Texas Red – this week’s Horse Who Changed Everything presented by Embrace The Race – about 10 days into the Keeneland September sale in 2013. The bay colt, a son of Afleet Alex and the Chilean-bred mare Ramatuelle, was just Hip 2073 then. Part of the Three Chimneys Farm consignment, he had pedigree full of South American-bred winners but the page went to his fourth dam. Desormeaux looked at that, but liked everything else more.

The trainer had been shopping for days without making a purchase. Then he saw this one.

“We were 10 days into the two-week sale and I didn’t see anything like him until then,” Desormeaux said. “I hadn’t seen anything physically close to him and there I was possibly being able to get a horse of that stature.”

Desormeaux liked everything about the yearling.

“I saw everything a supposed horseman is looking for – soundness, conformation, balance, athleticism,” he said. “Real keen and smart eye, just overall attractiveness. He had all the things. A good foot.”

Put all together, Texas Red – in the trainer’s eyes – was the perfect physical specimen. Of course nobody knows if that translates to racing ability, but Desormeaux was hooked.

“Most of all, it was just balance,” he said. “All those things joined together to form the perfect racehorse I’m looking for. There are not many times I’ve had that strong of an opinion on a horse.”

The $17,000 pricetag made it even more fun. Desormeaux was shopping for client Erich Brehm but changed the deal after the ticket got signed.

  “Man I want half of this horse,” Desormeaux told Brehm. The owner agreed, though he brought in other partners and the trainer’s share dropped to 20 percent – not that he’s complaining.

Texas Red made his debut at Arlington Park in July 2014, and broke his maiden two starts later at Del Mar. That fall he finished third behind American Pharoah in the FrontRunner at Santa Anita, and then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. As a 3-year-old, he won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy last summer. He’s earned $1.7 million, though he’s on the shelf with a minor ankle issue.

“I had him about ready to run a month ago and he came up with an ankle issue, like a strain,” Desormeaux said. “It’s not a chip, no cracks, no major stuff. He’ll be back.”

Desormeaux, whose brother is Hall of Fame jockey Kent, saddled his first starter in 1988 and won 51 races in 2013 but he had won a single graded stakes before Texas Red came into the barn. The success didn’t put the barn on the map, but surely helped write the directions. The barn topped $1 million in earnings for the first time in 2013 and has hit seven figures ever since including a career best $3.8 million last year. In addition to Texas Red, the barn includes major runners Exaggerator (second choice in Saturday’s Preakness), Right There, Decked Out, Swipe, Uzziel, Crucero.

“Ever since he got here he’s been a – what is the word? – beacon in my life,” the trainer said. “He really changed the trajectory of my career.”

Also a Keeneland September purchase, Exaggerator continued the climb. He won the Saratoga Special last summer, added the Delta Downs Jackpot in November. His 3-year-old campaign includes a win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and a second in the Kentucky Derby.

“Everybody can get one good one,” Desormeaux said. “There’s plenty of one-hit wonders out there. Trainers, any type of business, one-hit wonders abound. What’s cool is to come back with good horses. It proves we’re not one-hit wonders.”