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When legendary breeder J.V. “Jerry” Shields Jr. passed away last year, his horses went to his widow and his nephew.
But as Guinness McFadden explained Saturday after Country House was put forward as the Kentucky Derby champion, “Jerry had always told me it was never my business to own horses that valuable.”
McFadden, who owns his own Blackwood Stables in Lexington, and his bloodstock advisers considered selling the yearling at Keeneland two years ago, but Alex Solis II and his partner Jason Litt thought McFadden should hang onto him. A brief conversation with Mr. Shields later, and Country House remained in the family that had been breeding his line for four generations.
Country House proved the decision sound almost immediately.
“This horse broke his maiden at Gulfstream in very impressive fashion and I called Guinness after he crossed the finish line and I said, ‘Guinness, your phone’s going to be ringing off the hook,” said trainer Bill Mott, who gained his first Derby victory thanks to this connection.
McFadden confirmed he did get several offers but probably took less money from LNJ Foxwoods to become partners because of his connections to the Roth Family.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” McFadden said. “It’s always fun to do it with other people and the Roths are great.”
LNJ stands for parent Larry and Nancy and daughter Jaime Roth. It’s Jaime who runs the family stable.
“There were a lot of things to like about the horse,” Roth said at the post-race press conference. “We were all in to have a chance to own a horse like that with such great people is what it’s all about. It’s been awesome, even before today.”
Shields cringed when she was introduced by her own name, Maury, rather than that of her preferred formal introduction as Mrs. J.V. Shields as she is listed in references to her role.
“Well, it’s very exciting, because Jerry bred the horse. He’s a home-bred,” Shields said. “I just thank Billy Mott for training him, Flavien (Prat) for riding him. This is an incredible win. It will take a while to set in.”
Immediately after the race, McFadden couldn’t help but show the emotion of the win and what it meant for the family as he was interviewed on TV.
“It’s a pretty big deal. I can’t really put into words what it means to us,” McFadden said. “He (Shields) was special.”
As for the controversy surrounding Country House’s win, with the apparent winner Maximum Security disqualified after an inquiry, McFadden and Roth expressed sympathy for Maximum Security’s connections but also pride in how their horse had run.
“I’m proud of our horse. I think he ran great,” Roth said. “More importantly this sport throws curveballs at you every day. Most of the news is not great news and so you’re going to take what you can get and run with it. I don’t think in any of our eyes in diminishes what the horse did today.”
Still, McFadden expressed disbelief at being in this position.
“I’ve never even … I don’t win the Derby. I don’t know anyone that wins the Derby. This isn’t something that happens to people that I know. This is not anything I ever expected to happen. But now that it’s happened, I think we’d like to do this next year, also,” McFadden said to laughter as he nodded toward Mott. “No, it’s completely out of left field.”