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Wounded Warrior Stables donates 10 percent of earnings to veterans

Kentucky Derby hopeful Uncle Sigh, owned by Merrick-raised

Kentucky Derby hopeful Uncle Sigh, owned by Merrick-raised Gary Contessa, with exercise rider Nick Santagata in the saddle, walks around the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, April 27, 2014. Credit: AP

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- George "Chip" McEwen, owner of Wounded Warrior Stables, hosted wounded veterans Keith David and Scott Schroeder this weekend. Also among McEwen's approximately 50 guests for Derby weekend were Nate Whiting, a Green Beret whose brother was killed in Iraq, and Whiting's parents.

They watched the New York-bred Uncle Sigh, co-owned by McEwen and Anthony Robertson, finish 14th Saturday in the Kentucky Derby. For the first time, Uncle Sigh, trained by Long Island native Gary Contessa, wore yellow blinkers decorated with a purple heart.

McEwen, who owns a pharmaceutical business in South Carolina, has had horses for 17 years. He renamed his stable two years ago to bring attention to the casualties of war in Afghanistan. "It's not about me," he said. "It's easy to forget we've been at war there since 2001. Kids are getting shot every day over there and nobody thinks about it."

The tipping point for McEwen came two years ago, when he watched a 27-year-old vet who needed help getting off a plane. The man still had the use of his arms and legs but couldn't walk because he'd been hit in the head by an explosion. With him were his wife, two young children and his mother.

"Right then, I realized the whole dynamic of the family had changed forever," McEwen said. "Right then, I decided to do something different."

McEwen donates 10 percent of his runners' purse earnings as well as his profits from selling thoroughbreds he buys at sales.

Sherman moved by movie

One of the highlights of a visit to Churchill Downs' Derby Museum is the IMAX movie tracing a thoroughbred's journey from birth until Derby Day. It comes at you in 360 degrees and really gives a feel for the racetrack life.

Art Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer of winning Derby favorite California Chrome, checked it out Thursday with his family. "Oh, I liked the Derby movie a lot, very touching," he said. "My wife and my two nieces were bawling their eyes out. It's very special."

Sherman then went into the garden behind the museum to view the grave of 1955 Derby champion Swaps, with whom he traveled in a boxcar from Los Angeles to Louisville. "That was something," he said. "It made me realize how the years have flown by."

Wait till next year

Todd Pletcher is a thoughtful guy with a dry sense of humor. He speaks in paragraphs and rarely is taken aback by a question. Well, there was that one time.

"I don't think I'm the only one to have this one come his way, but it did happen to me," Pletcher said. "I had a fellow ask me if my Derby horse didn't run well, would I bring him back next year and try again. Not much you can do with that one."

Pletcher overruled

Pletcher wanted to scratch We Miss Artie, who finished 10th in the Derby at odds of 27-1. Owner Ken Ramsey overruled him, and the colt ended up with post position 7 Wednesday. When asked his opinion of the draw, Pletcher said, "Perfect, just what I was dreaming of."

Local lingo

Down here, folks greet each other with "Happy Derby," and there are bumper stickers saying, "Talk Derby to me."

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