On the eve of the 132nd running of the Preakness, George Bolton invited his partners to his family horse farm on the edge of Baltimore for a small party to celebrate the unlikely chain of events that put Curlin in the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown.
It wasn't about nostalgia, though there had to be plenty of that for a man who grew up around horses and remembers watching his first Preakness at age 5. It was more about the spirit of the partnership that gambled big bucks on a one-time winner who has taken his owners on the ride of their lives.
"It is a dream come true," Bolton said. "I grew up on a farm that my father owns, only about 10 miles from here across from St. Timothy's School on [Greenspring] Avenue. So very close. The team was all there last night."
Bolton, 43, went to Gilman before leaving Baltimore for prep school and the University of Virginia. He returned to become a managing director at Alex. Brown & Sons before being transferred to San Francisco, where he now makes his home.
So, maybe he's only a part-time Baltimore guy, but he comes from the family that - among other interests - once ran The Sun. The farm was bequeathed to his father by his great-aunt, Ida Perry Black, whose husband was an aviation pioneer and the chairman of the A.S. Abell Co., which owned The Sun until it was sold to the Times Mirror Co. in the 1980s. Bolton's father, Perry, won the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1998 with a horse named Welterweight and continues to raise horses for fox hunting and steeplechase.
Sorry for the history lesson, but it helps put the race into better context for Bolton, who was still trying to get his arms around the notion that he was one of the owners of a Preakness champion.
"You never think you're going to ever be in a race or win a race like this," Bolton said. "This is something that is very surreal. The Derby was surreal. The Arkansas Derby was surreal. I am just very proud to be associated with this group and to win a race 10 miles from my father's farm is a great, great honor.
"But I think the most important thing for all of us is that Curlin won a great one and he won one of the three classics. If I had anything to prioritize in my head, it is just great to win a big, big race with a horse that has got the talent he does."
The partnership continued to dodge questions yesterday about how much was actually paid for Curlin (estimates range to $3.5 million for 80 percent of the colt) after trainer Steve Asmussen saw him score an impressive maiden victory at Gulfstream Park in February, or the percentage of ownership held by each of the partners. Each of them, however, seems very comfortable with an arrangement that allowed them to share the initial risk and enjoy this amazing reward.
"When you buy a Curlin and you write a huge check, it can be a pretty lonely feeling if you do it by yourself," Bolton said. "That maiden race could have been his best race."
Instead, Curlin stretched out from a seven-furlong debut to a five-length victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and a 10 1/2 -length victory in the Arkansas Derby.
"It was almost supernatural the way he went from a maiden at seven furlongs at Gulfstream to where we are today," said Bolton, who claims he was far more nervous yesterday than he was when Curlin came out of the gate at Churchill Downs.
There was more at stake then, but nobody has a right to expect too much in a 20-horse stampede. Curlin did not get a great trip and finished off the lead for the only time in his brief career.
"When you go into the Derby, you know you're throwing him to the wolves in that big field," he said. "Coming here, you're thinking, 'What if he comes in fourth and he's not the super horse that we think he is?'"
No worries anymore. Curlin pulled up alongside Derby winner Street Sense during the final furlong and won by a head bob in one of the most suspenseful Preakness finishes in history. Now, the partnership will wait until Asmussen evaluates the horse over the next few days before deciding whether to run him in the Belmont.
Bolton seemed to defer to the other partners at yesterday's post-race media conference, but he is no shrinking violet. His positive attitude, according to Asmussen, is one of the reasons for the great chemistry of the ownership syndicate.
"No matter how bad a day you're having, call George," he said. "George is 100 percent in charge of entertainment at all times."
That must have been obvious Friday night, when Bolton gave everyone a taste of old-school Baltimore hospitality.
"Our partnership is enjoying this as a group," Bolton said. "There is a nice energy to it. They say that partnerships can start to smell, but that's not the case at all there. We're having a great time."
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