Jockeys Jose Ortiz and Gerardo Corrales make a memorable Derby win extra special for Norma Barnes-Euresti, co-owner of Mage (Courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
By Mike Kane – Maryland Jockey Club
BALTIMORE— Fifty years and a day after the start of a lifetime of intense love of horses and racing Norma Barnes-Euresti found herself at the center of a memorable few minutes on the track at Churchill Downs May 6.
Barnes-Euresti, a co-owner of the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage, was on her way to the special Derby winner’s circle in the infield but was having trouble getting through the deep dirt surface in her wheelchair. Seeing that her friend was struggling to pull Barnes-Euresti backward across the track, jockeys Gerardo Corrales and Jose Ortiz, decided to participate in what turned into a special delivery.
“Corrales and Ortiz were so kind as to just come over,” Barnes-Euresti said. “They picked me up and started helping carry me across the track. Then, when you get over to the winner’s circle area, there are these concrete steps that go up into that area. Those gentlemen were just so kind and so classy as to carry me up those steps and set me down.
“It was just a great moment, on top of a great moment that they were so kind. They had just ridden in a big race themselves, and they weren’t done for the day. The fact that they just came up and just helped, I can’t tell you what that means to me.”
Barnes-Euresti, an investor in the Commonwealth partnership (listed as CMNWLTH in the program) that owns a 25 percent share in Mage, participated in the post-Derby festivities. Unlike most of the others celebrating Mage’s score, she had Derby-winning experience as a Myracehorse.com partner in 2020 victor Authentic. She will be at Pimlico Race Course for the first time Saturday when Mage faces seven challengers in the 148th Preakness Stakes (G1).
NBC Sports’ winner’s circle host Ahmed Fareed saw the jockeys do their good work and did an interview with Barnes-Euresti, whose mobility is limited by an underlying physical condition.
“As soon as the microphone went away,” she said, “I had this moment of ‘I don’t even know what I said’ and if I had been coherent because I was just so excited to have Mage win, and my heart was just so full from the kindness of the two jockeys to help in that moment. I think I was shouting. I think I was excited. I don’t know that I did justice to the love I felt for everyone in that moment, but I did my best for somebody who was a little overwhelmed.”
Barnes-Euresti, the Chief Legal Officer Designate for the WK Kellogg Co., precisely traces her connection to racing to May 5, 1973. when Secretariat began his Triple Crown run in the Derby. She was in kindergarten.
“I was watching that race with my dad on TV, and I was just so struck by Penny Chenery being his owner,” Barnes-Euresti said. “In that moment, I just wanted to be her and I just became kind of horse crazy as a child afterwards. I read everything I could. Every toy that belonged to me was some horse-related toy. I had a hobby horse. I had those little Breyer horses. I used to put them in the front basket on my bicycle and I would imagine that this is what I was doing.
Four years later, she and her father, Michael, watched Seattle Slew, whose owners included Karen Taylor, start his Triple Crown sweep in the Derby.
“That was when I first kind of voiced to him this desire that I had to do that,” she said “I said to him, ‘someday that’s going to be us. We’re going to be in the winner’s circle after winning the Kentucky Derby.’ And my dad said, ‘They don’t call it the Sport of Kings for nothing kid. I hate to tell you this, but you were not born into royalty or into people that own horses.’”
However, Barnes-Euresti said her father encouraged her to think big.
She recalls him telling her, ‘Don’t let anyone take your dreams. If this is something you’re really interested in, then it has to be something more than what you daydream about. Right? You have to actually believe that you can do it and then you’re going to have to figure out a plan of how are you going to get there because I’m sure that these folks had a plan of how they were going to get there.’
“Penny Chenery certainly had a little bit of a different plan because her father was involved. Karen, as far as we knew, at that time, didn’t have that experience. But she had a plan, and she made it happen. She took steps to make it happen.”
Barnes-Euresti said she dove into horses and racing. She consumed all the books about horses she could find in the library and bought others that she saw advertised. Her family was living in Utah at the time, and she said her father had a friend who was into Quarter Horse racing. They would drive to Pocatello, Idaho to watch the horses compete.
“I asked all these questions, and I got jobs working at horse farms so I could learn how to ride,” she said. “I cleaned a lot of stalls and brushed a lot of horses, and, frankly, I loved every moment of it. I did jobs like that all the way up through being in law school.”
Twenty years after being captivated by Chenery and Secretariat, Barnes-Euestri was a young professional still determined to be an owner. She saw an advertisement in a Chicago newspaper offering shares in some standardbred horses and climbed aboard. Now, 30 years later, she said she has had an ownership stake in approximately 75 horses. Most of the group are Thoroughbreds in flat racing, but she has also owned shares in steeplechase horses and standardbreds. The most accomplished of her harness horses was Wiggle It Jiggle It, winner of the 2015 Little Brown Jug.
“I treat it the same way that anyone running a horse farm does,” she said. “I look for the horses that are out there that you can invest in. I read their pedigrees. I’ve studied that quite a bit. I watch their works if they’re available. Then I make my selections. I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of luck with that over the years.”
With Commonwealth, she is a partner in Country Grammer, winner of the 2022 Dubai World Cup (G1) who has earned over $14 million. Through Myracehorse.com she has a stake in 2022 Prince of Wales Stakes winner Duke of Love. During her three decades in the sport Barnes-Euresti, a resident of Battle Creek, Mich., said she has had shares in between 25 and 30 graded stakes winners.
“I’ve been very fortunate that way,” she said. “The thing that my father impressed on me when I first had this goal for sure is that you’ll probably have to have a team around you to do this with. Everyone who’s successful has a team. People try to say they were self-made, and they’re just not grateful enough to the people who helped them. He said, ‘just think about the team, that you’re evaluating them as much as you do the horses.’”
Barnes-Euresti said her father’s advice was not to be too focused on the goal and to enjoy the people she would meet along the way.
“Has he ever been right about that. I have to tell you, a lot of people when they talk about going to the Derby – I’ve seen it because I love it. I’ve watched every edition since Secretariat won – you hear people talk about, it’s a fairy tale come true. And it’s definitely that.”
Even though she is a seasoned owner of horses, Barnes-Euestri said she was inexplicably touched by Mage. She purchased a higher-level stake in the Good Magic colt for herself and has made good use of the $50 micro-shares that Commonwealth offers.
“When I saw him in November there was something so special about him that I gave Commonwealth shares in him to friends and family for the holidays as a present because I just had a feeling,” she said. “I can’t really explain it and it probably makes me sound like I think I have more skill than I probably really do. There’s something that you feel when you see him, that there’s something special about him.”
It has turned out that Barnes-Euresti was right about Mage’s ability and acknowledges that she is wrapped up in the story that surrounds the colt trained by Gustavo Delgado and his son Gustavo Delgado Jr. The critical first step of the tale took place a year ago, then Delgado Jr. and his partner Ramiro Restrepo went over their budget to purchase the 2-year-old colt for $290,000 at auction. They needed some other investors and brought in Sterling Racing and Commonwealth.
“The people who are part of the team, they’re all very different, but love is the common denominator,” she said. “A love of horses and horse racing. A love of Mage and his incredible heart and spirit, his will to win. His love of running and the love you see that he has for the people who surrounded him.
“If you’ve heard the story of Gustavo Jr. and Ramiro, and how they bid on him, the fact that they just had that faith in themselves and the faith in this horse that they saw, to think he could be something.,” she continued. “To me, that is just how I think about it. I feel like it’s a love story. And I felt that way the first time I saw him.”
During the week before the race, Barnes-Eusteri made a point of visiting the Kentucky Derby Museum to see the new exhibit Secretariat: America’s Horse. She said she felt like her late father was with her and that she directed some thoughts toward him and the woman who was her inspiration.
“There’s this lovely picture there in the hall with Penny Chenery and Secretariat. I had my picture taken in front of that,” she said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know if you can hear me, but I want to say thank you because she gave a little girl a dream. And you made me believe that I could actually get here not having any of the connections or horses that people usually have to lead them to that place.”