My Friends Beer
Photo Credit: Coady Photography
When the Coronavirus hit and racing shut down in Maryland under governor’s orders, Designated Hitters Racing, LLC (DHR), a partnership out of the Maryland, decided to send their best 3-year-old prospect to Oaklawn. Never did they imagine their colt would be running on the first Saturday in May in the Derby–the Arkansas Derby, Division 1, to be precise.
The cleverly named My Friends Beer will start from post position #2 in Division 1 on Saturday under jockey Declan Cannon. Trained by Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Dwyer, the colt was purchased by O’Dwyer as an agent for DHR at the April 2019 2-year-olds in training Ocala Breeders Sale for $25,000. The son of Stay Thirsty (also where he gets his name, my friends) out of Elusive Quality mare Slews’s Quality was bred in Maryland by Best A Luck Farm, LLC. My Friends Beer is very nicely bred as a half brother to 2018 Eclipse Award winner Shamrock Rose and being a Maryland bred adds lots of incentives with purse bonuses.
Don’t tell anyone to hold your beer on this colt, My Friends Beer has a solid record with eight career starts with one win, three seconds and two third place finishes. The bay colt placed second in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park on March 14 and has hit the board in all four starts this year.
DHR partner Chris Brown said the decision to bring the colt to Oaklawn wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“I would say going to Oaklawn was maybe plan F? With so much uncertainty here in Maryland, owners and trainers have had some major decisions to make. Do you turn the horses out? Stay in training and hope Laurel Park opens soon? Do you go to Florida?
“I think every option was on the table at some point, but it was ultimately Jerry O’Dwyer who showed an incredible amount of confidence and assured everyone My Friends Beer should go to Oaklawn and compete.” Brown said.
My Friends Beer has won at a mile carrying 120 pounds but at 15.2 hands and at under 1,000 pounds he will have his work cut out for him in this deeply talented 11-horse field. His longest challenge so far has been 1 1/16 miles. But Brown and O’Dwyer think their colt is ready to stretch it out to the nine fulongs of the Arkansas Derby.
Brown commented, “My Friends Beer has shown to have more of a closing style. Unfortunately 3-year-old races are typically a mile or less and one turn at Laurel Park, so it has been a challenge to really see how good he is stretched out. He proved in the Private Terms Stakes he could handle two turns and then he shipped to Oaklawn where he was just finding his stride down the stretch. The horse (Dack Janiel’s) he passed for third at Oaklawn came right back to win a nice Starter Allowance at 1 1/16. We love the 1 1/8 for him … and I would say it’s a big reason he’s entered here.”
Because jockeys weren’t allowed to travel when My Friends Beer shipped to Arkansas the move required a change from his usual rider Feargal Lynch. Jerry O’Dwyer picked up Oaklawn-based jockey Declan Cannon for his mount and the pairing has worked nicely. My Friends Beer had a third place finish April 11 under Cannon in an Allowance Optional Claiming at Oaklawn. On a fast track in a field of 10 the colt earned an 89 Equibase Speed Figure.
“Declan rode My Friends Beer three weeks ago, and the fact that he said yes to getting back on him in the Arkansas Derby made everyone in Designated Hitters feel good. There’s no doubt he could have found another mount. It feels great having a jockey who has ridden him already and and believes in him.” Brown said enthusiastically.
“We love our local jockey’s, but with Covid-19 you can’t take anyone with you. I know Feargal Lynch and Sheldon Russell will be cheering My Friends Beer on.” he added.
Based at Laurel Park, O’Dwyer arrived in Maryland from his native Ireland via Kentucky. He actually began his career in racing as a jockey across the pond but after realizing that his career wasn’t rising to a top-level, he took the advice of some friends living in the States and came over to gallop horses for a year. Settling in Kentucky, O’Dwyer started galloping babies for trainer Al Stall in 2010 often riding Stall’s star Blame’s workmate in the mornings.
After a break in Ocala, O’Dwyer returned to Kentucky to gallop horses and got his trainer’s license. In January 2017, he began to bring horses to Maryland where the purses were higher and subsequently moved to there.
O’Dwyer’s wife, Alison, is also heavily involved in DHR. An accomplished horsewoman, Allison grew up in Colorado riding and showing horses. She has talent for training and picking horses. Allison assists Jerry in purchases for Designated Hitters Racing.
The couple met in Kentucky both working in the horse industry. They posted their story on their wedding site last year: “Ireland and Colorado Collide in the Bluegrass State. Jerry and Alison first met the old fashioned way at bar in Lexington, KY through common friends in 2010.
Jerry was “fresh off the boat” as we Americans say and Alison was working on graduating from college. They went their separate ways and reconnected five years later… Again surprisingly at bar. Happily Ever After!”
The DHR partners defer to O’Dwyer’s expertise and decision-making as a rule with total confidence while finding him approachable as a trainer. When referring to Jerry O’Dwyer, Brown expressed, “When you’re walking around Laurel Park, you will consistently hear people talk about how nice Jerry is. In an industry that doesn’t always get the best PR … little things like that are so important to us.”
He continued, “You can just see with how our horses are turned out, that they are cared for. Prior to the shutdown we were always welcome with open arms to come watch training and visit the horses, and every time we are welcomed like family. You can see in just a few short years he created a barn with a great culture, and there’s a reason he’s had so much success so quickly.”
Currently, the partnership has several other well-performing horses in their stable. Ilchester Cheetah is a New York-bred filly by Itsmyluckyday out of Political Force mare Margaret Lilian. Second in her first start this year at Charles Town, the 3-year-old followed up with back-to-back wins at Charles Town and Aqueduct, respectively. Her career to date record is five wins in nine starts with a second and a third place finish.
Maryland-bred V.I.P. Ticket came back from a seven month layoff to get in only one start in 2020 before racing paused at Laurel. The 4-year-old colt finished fourth in the AOC with a snappy Equibase Speed Figure of 93. The son of Windsor Castle hit the board in nine of his 10 starts in 2019. With 17 career starts the bay colt had four wins, two seconds and five third place finishes.
Designated Hitters is also breeding as well as buying. April 10 they welcomed a lovely chestnut Hoppertunity filly out of the Union Rags mare Fingerpaint.
The partnership also bred the first ever foal of freshman sire No Never No More, the son of Scat Daddy, standing in Maryland. The dark bay colt, out of the Munnings mare Sister Pat, was born March 12 at Winding Creek Farm in Union Bridge, Md.
It was at Laurel Park that O’Dwyer met Dan Heim, who founded Designated Hitters Racing with his wife, Denise Heim. The Heims lived in the Laurel area, Dan working as an energy trader in Baltimore.
Overall, there are about 12 partners in Designated Hitters and they welcome interest from anyone who wants to get in the game.
“We know lot of folks that don’t really have the resources or the risk-taking sensibility to go out and buy a horse but they support us and are fans, so we’ve really grown into a whole lot of folks,” Dan Heim told The Racing Biz.
“We’re not in this to make money,” Heim said. “We want good people who enjoy racing, who want to come to the track, who care about the horses and want to give them treats. When you’re running at a track and there’s nobody to cheer you on, it doesn’t feel right. We want big win photos with lots of folks in the winner’s circle.”
Avid horse people from Sykesville, Md., Chris Brown and his wife Katie, also a DHR partner, are volunteers for Second Chance Farm Maryland.
“My wife Katie and I got involved with Designated Hitters mostly by coincidence. Dan and Denise Heim bring their dog Harper to the vet Katie manages, a common interest was there, and eventually we all met together at Laurel Park,” Brown explained.
“I think there’s a misconception out there that you need to be rich and willing to lose a ton of money to own horses … and it’s just not true. Absolutely there is risk, but if you get with the right people, right trainer, ask questions it’s a game for anyone. There’s no pressure, we can ask whatever questions we want, and we pick who we want to invest in.”
While they trust O’Dwyer to pick horses at the sales for his great eye on conformation and for how a horse moves Designated Hitters is a close group and everyone has a voice.
Brown said “We are about as hands on as we’re allowed to be! Before racing was shut down in Maryland, we would be at the barns as much as possible to give everyone carrots and say hi”.
“That’s one of the biggest bummers right now, not getting to show the horses love. We already have a request in for Jerry to Facetime us with My Friends Beer on Saturday before the race.”
The Designated Hitters Racing partners will be on the edges of their seats on Saturday when their colt is up at bat. Let’s wish them luck, safe trip and a home run!