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Bret Calhoun’s first time attending the Kentucky Derby came in 1997.
The Grand Prairie native had been working as a trainer for only four years at that point. He still can vividly recall the excitement he felt as fans were hanging on the chain-link fences, screaming as the horses moved past.
Twenty-two years later, Calhoun has a horse in Saturday’s Run for the Roses.
"The Kentucky Derby is how everybody in this industry is judged," Calhoun said. "You see the casual fan on the street, and you tell them what you do and the first thing they say is, ‘You ever won the Kentucky Derby?’ Even to the casual fan, it’s a big deal.
"To the people in the business, it’s everything. This is the pinnacle. This is the world’s greatest race. It gets the most attention. For me, personally, it would just be really, really exciting. But it can also be a game-changer for your career."
Calhoun is the trainer for By My Standards, a 3-year-old bay colt. By My Standards is listed as a 15-1 shot at Churchill Downs, upgraded from 20-1 after the favorite, Omaha Beach, was withdrawn Wednesday.
By My Standards earned the opportunity after winning the Louisiana Derby in March at 22-1 odds.
"He’s settling in here," Calhoun said. "He seems to have an affinity for this surface, so everything is going very good."
Calhoun started out small in 1993. Trying to build a stable, he did everything from grooming horses to riding them. When Lone Star Park opened in 1997, he was able to get only four stalls. He now has a barn with 50 stalls at the Grand Prairie track.
Calhoun’s career highlight has been winning two Breeders’ Cup races in 2010. He has gone on to have horses run in over 14,000 races, winning 3,027, placing second in 2,265 and third in 1,871. His lifetime earnings are over $79 million.
Jay Severs has known Calhoun for 23 years and has been an assistant trainer for him over the last 18. While he points out that a win Saturday could change their business "dramatically" in terms of improving the horses in their stable, he doesn’t think a Kentucky Derby win would do much to change Calhoun.
"We won two Breeders’ Cup world championship races back in 2010 and at the time was the biggest races of our careers, and it didn’t change anything at all," Severs said. "It changed some of the quality of livestock we got in our barn after that, but as far as personality, he won’t change at all.
"He’ll be right back to business the following morning."
Calhoun, who now splits time living in Louisville and New Orleans, fell in love with the sport at a young age. His parents got him interested as a child by taking him to races at Oaklawn Park, Louisiana Downs and Delta Downs.
He begged for a horse until his father, William "Buddy" Calhoun, eventually bought his son some race-bred quarter horses. Shortly after, they started a thoroughbred business.
His parents flew into Louisville on Wednesday and will be in attendance for the Kentucky Derby.
What would it mean to get that win in front of them?
"Pretty overwhelming," Calhoun said. "Pretty emotional. A lot of things go through your mind as you’re getting here. Just getting past the Louisiana Derby and knowing we were going to be in the Kentucky Derby can get pretty emotional. Getting very close to Derby Day, I’m sure it will be a very emotional day."