Kevin Atwood has always liked speed. His boots were in stirrups more often than on the ground while he was growing up in Hopkinsville, Ky., and he carried on that tradition with barrel racing through adulthood.
In 2008, however, Atwood had to admit he needed to slow down. Then 46, he started searching for another outlet in which he could enjoy both horses and speed.
Turning to Thoroughbred racing, Atwood contacted his childhood friend, fellow Hopkinsville native trainer Larry Jones. His first horse, named One Pretty Lady, won a couple races and earned more than double her purchase price, and Atwood was hooked.
“It's the same adrenaline rush but I don't have to ride her,” Atwood said. “We've had a lot of fun.”
With more than 50 years of friendship between the two, Atwood and Jones have a solid working relationship.
“He loves to tell people about his first memory of me,” said Atwood, laughing. “I used to have this little buckskin pony named Cue Ball, and like I said, Larry's about three or four years older than me. We were both members of this saddle club, and we were on a trail ride, and he said, 'This boy had a brand new saddle, and it squeaked so bad it was driving me crazy the whole time.' He always tells people about that.
“So thanks Larry, just talk about what a goofy little guy I was. I didn't grow up – I'm 57 and I'm still goofy. I'm having fun anyway.”
Atwood and Jones' biggest success is inarguably the racemare Ours to Run. A Louisiana-bred daughter of Half Ours, the 5-year-old has won her last six starts in a row, including five state-bred stakes and a listed stakes against open company at Oaklawn Park.
“We ran in the Carousel back at Oaklawn in April,” Atwood explained. “I don't think Larry really wanted to, I think he wanted to keep her against the Louisiana-breds but there wasn't really anything coming up. I wouldn't say we begged him, but I told him, 'We'd really like to run there, Larry.'
“She's kind of the opposite of most horses. When she gets a little stirred up in the paddock, she's always run well like that. She almost fell in the paddock that day with Larry, but when she got on the track she just blew by Mia Mischief (winning by 3 ¾ lengths). And then Mia Mischief won a Grade 1.”
Last Saturday, Ours to Run defended her title in the Louisiana Legends Mademoiselle Stakes, winning it for the second year in a row. That win was over a fast track at Evangeline Downs, but Atwood said Ours to Run really prefers the track sloppy, like it was for her big win at Oaklawn.
“If we get in the mud, we can run with anybody,” he said. “She probably could go seven (furlongs). The other night, realistically, she probably ran seven because she was way out in the middle of the track the whole time! Part of it is she has to carry so much more weight, so she was carrying five pounds more than Our Millie, the horse who ran second.”
A winner of 12 of her 20 lifetime starts, Ours to Run didn't have a particularly auspicious beginning. She broke her maiden for a $30,000 tag at Churchill Downs in the colors of her breeder Clifford Grum but suffered a bowed tendon in the process.
Six months later Atwood had the opportunity to purchase the filly privately via trainer Rick Jordan. Ours to Run hadn't started since breaking her maiden, so there was a good deal of risk involved.
“She was bred well. I thought, worst case scenario, you know, I'll have a good broodmare,” Atwood remembered.
The filly made her first start back at Belterra in late April, finishing second under Jordan's care.
“I said, 'We-ll, we might have something here,'” said Atwood. “I ran her again (at Belterra) and she won. I ran her the third time and she broke the track record at Belterra. I thought, 'Hmmm… interesting.'”
After a few more starts, Jordan suggested that Atwood should take the filly to Louisiana to chase the state-bred purses.
“He volunteered, he said, 'You really need to give her a chance to run for that Louisiana-bred money,'” Atwood said. “I said, 'I agree, but I didn't want to take her away from you.' He said, 'No, no, it's the right thing.'”
Jones got the call to take over conditioning Ours to Run in late 2017. It took a little trial-and-error to figure out the filly's game, but winning six straight stakes races is more than enough to have Atwood excited for the future. The team plans to target the G2 Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga on July 24 for her next start, although Atwood said it took a little convincing to get Jones in on the plan.
“I was textin' him this morning, just so he couldn't cool off, and I told him we'd already booked our flights and our hotels,” Atwood laughed. “As much as it seems like it rains at Saratoga all the time, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. If we could get her graded stakes-placed, I'd be thrilled.”
In the meantime, Atwood plans to enjoy the new friends he's made in Louisiana and continue to visit his five Louisiana-bred foals on the ground at Clear Creek Stud.
“Because of Ours to Run, and how great that Louisiana program is, I've sent seven of my mares to Louisiana and am leaving them there,” he said. “I thought, 'I'm in Western Kentucky, I have a hard time competing against WinStar and Calumet and those guys, but every once in a while I can come up with a wild card in Louisiana.'”
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