To qualify for the Kentucky Derby, a horse must be strong. This year a local farm is hoping being Wicked Strong is enough to snag the $2 million purse.
Wicked Strong, a thoroughbred from Beverly’s Centennial Farms, was renamed to honor the Boston Marathon victims after last year’s tragedy. Don Little Jr., the president of the farm, thinks fate will have a role in bringing first place back to Massachusetts.
“Absolutely, totally, I believe in fate,” Little said in a telephone interview today. “There are things we don’t have control of, that are bringing us good energy.”
Little might be on to something. In the farm’s 32-year history, this is the first horse to qualify for the Derby. And not only did Wicked Strong qualify, he is ranked in the top five.
“I truly believe this is meant to be,” he said. “Too many coincidences have aligned.”
Little bought the horse at an auction in 2012. He was named Moyne Spun, but Little said he wasn’t crazy about that moniker.
“I was looking for something a little more forceful and catchy,” he said.
Last year’s tragedy inspired Little. He said he wanted to name the horse Boston Strong, but that was already taken. At a Boston Bruins game a few days after the bombing, his wife and her friends came up with the new namesake.
“They started texting me from the game, telling me the idea,” he said. “And it was perfect, it was so Bostonian.”
Wicked Strong, so far, has lived up to his name. Earlier this month, he took first place in the Wood Memorial Stakes, and hasn’t stopped training since, according to his trainer Jimmy Jerkens.
“He’s doing very well,” said Jerkens. “A lot of things have to happen for a horse to win, but I’m happy with how he’s doing.”
Jerkens has been working with Wicked Strong since last May. He’s a unique trainer, with a hands-on approach. He’s not usually one to buy into destiny and luck, but he says this year’s events have him believing.
“It’s amazing how fate seems to be working for us,” he said. “I never say we’re going to win because that will blow your chances. But I will say we’re quietly confident.”
The team plans to head to Kentucky at the end of this month to prepare for the May 3 race.
Of course, the city has rallied behind the horse with the sentimental name. But farm officials have also given people another reason to root for the thoroughbred.
To date 1 percent of Wicked Strong’s winnings have been donated to the One Fund, which was set up to raise money for those affected by the attacks. This has amounted to about $7,000, said Little. With the more prestigious races, Little said, he’s ready to up the ante.
Five percent of Wicked Strong’s earnings in the Kentucky Derby, and other Triple Crown races will be donated to the fund. With a winning prize of $2 million, this could amount to a large sum.
“We want to give back to Boston,” said Little. “With the name — and the donation.”