LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He owned Noble Maz, and on Saturday, Fred Hart of Jericho rooted hard for her son.
Hart knew his 59-1 shot was up against it, and Noble Indy finished 17th of 20, about 22 lengths behind Justify. Still, Noble Indy’s trip in the slop was rough, but Hart’s Derby visit was the journey of a lifetime.
Hart owed his Derby debut to an 80th birthday present from his son Andy, who shelled out $17,000 for a package tour. The $8,500 apiece provided airfare, hotel and a buffet for two days on Churchill Downs’ fourth floor.
“Eighty-five hundred is a lot of money,” Fred Hart said, smiling, “but I raised him, so I figure he’s still ahead of the game with me.”
Hart lived in Brooklyn before moving to Woodmere at 15. He got the racetrack bug at the old Jamaica track in Queens. “After our last class at Lawrence High School, we’d go to the races,” he said Friday. His racetrack education continued at Narragansett Park and Lincoln Downs, both long gone, while he attended the University of Rhode Island.
He worked as a stockbroker in Manhattan and Garden City, retiring only 2½ years ago, and invested in his first thoroughbred in 1985. He’s owned them ever since, and his only horse in training won recently at Laurel in Maryland. “The best horse I ever owned” was Pennsylvania-bred stakes-winner Noble Maz, a $9,000 purchase who earned $327,340, mostly at Parx in suburban Philadelphia.
“You can’t teach speed, and she had a lot of it,” Hart said. “She never wanted more than 5½ furlongs, but I think she had the lead in 22 of her 24 races.”
After Noble Maz turned 6 in 2012, her attitude soured. “It became apparent she didn’t want to race anymore,’’ Hart said. He didn’t want to go into the breeding business, so he put her in a $25,000 claiming race. She went to John Servis, trainer of 2004 Derby and Preakness champion Smarty Jones. Noble Maz later was retired and sold to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, as a broodmare prospect.
Her second foal, sired by Take Charge Indy, was Noble Indy, like her a bay with white markings. When Hart and his wife, Leslie, visited them at WinStar, they enjoyed a full moment. “We watched 12 broodmares charging down a hill toward us, and Noble Maz was with them,” he said. “She came right over to the fence and nuzzled my wife. She remembered Leslie, and it was very sweet.”
Unfortunately, Noble Maz died last year after foaling a colt in Poughkeepsie, New York. “I didn’t find out until a month later,” Hart said. “A bloodstock agent had told WinStar that Noble Maz wouldn’t be worth anything as a broodmare. If they had known what they had, they wouldn’t have sent her to New York.”
Hart wanted to bid on Noble Indy at Keeneland’s September 2016 yearling sale. “I wasn’t in position to spend $45,000,” he said, “but now in hindsight I wish I had.” The colt entered the Derby 3-for-4 with earnings of $691,600.
Before Noble Indy aced his debut by 9 lengths last December, Hart put $80 on him at 125-1 in the Derby future book. His gritty win March 24 in the Louisiana Derby brought him to Louisville. “He showed a lot of heart,” said Hart.
If Noble Indy, co-owned by Long Islander Mike Repole and WinStar, had won Saturday, Hart’s bet would have paid $10,000. The proud equine grandpa thoroughly enjoyed his ride this spring anyway. The big score eluded him, but some things you can’t put a price on.