LOS ANGELES -- This is the story of a lawyer who went straight and a horse who has little chance in the $750,000, Grade I CashCall Futurity on Saturday at Hollywood Park.
But read on, anyway.
Aron Wellman is the former lawyer. Actually, he still is one, but he has somehow managed to leave behind the thrills of insurance litigation. He is 34 and feeds his family now as a main partner in a new horse racing ownership enterprise called Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. He and main partner Lee Midkiff have been in business since mid-August.
Desormais is the horse, an untested 2-year-old who will enter the starting gate in the ninth race with 12 others and would knock horse racing on its back if he crossed the finish line in front. Or even second or third. Bettors like value, and Desormais will certainly provide that, probably going off around 30-1.
Wellman, who found Desormais and persuaded his partners to buy in, says running him in the CashCall is "like taking somebody from T-ball to the major leagues."
The Futurity is one of those races that gauge the future of these still somewhat lanky, awkward babies for the all-important upcoming 3-year-old season. Horse racing remains so much about gathering a stable of prospects for a run at the Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown races that it is willing to put $750,000 on the line in mid-December for an anybody's-guess field.
Desormais is the lottery ticket of Derby dreams.
He didn't break his maiden (win his first race) until Nov. 15, in his third race. He did so impressively, but in a race at a small track in the south of France that probably featured few offspring of Secretariat. He was purchased by Wellman and Eclipse the next week, then flown from Marseille to Chantilly to Amsterdam to Los Angeles, where he spent two days sequestered for inspection. Finally, Dec. 9, he was given to trainer Paddy Gallagher, who, with a victory by Desormais, could legally change his name to Miracle Man.
Desormais will enter the race with winnings of $11,941. The closest he has been to a Grade I race before this is when a couple of John Sadler's horses ran near him during morning workouts. Three of the other 12 horses in the race have winnings in excess of $245,000, led by Basmati's $278,800.
All that, and in the post-position draw, Desormais drew the far outside.
"For him to win," a realistic Wellman says, "it would be an achievement of epic proportions."
A closer look at Wellman and how he does business hints that Desormais isn't quite a total roll of the dice. Wellman knows horses.
From age 8 until he went to work for a small Los Angeles law firm, Wellman spent the bulk of his summers at Del Mar, working and observing a trainer named Jude Feld.
"I told Feld (a family friend) that I wanted to be in horse racing," Wellman says. "He said, 'OK, kid. I leave for the track every morning at 4:30. If you are there, you can come along."'
For the nearly 20 years after that during Del Mar time, Wellman was there at 4:30 a.m.
While he was litigating insurance cases, he formed a small ownership group with friends and they called it LGL Enterprises. LGL stood for Let's Get Lucky.
Wellman and his group did.
Their first horse, Rhetoric Express, won an allowance race four months after the purchase. Another horse, Three Degrees, became a top turf filly. Then they bought a horse named Valbenny, who won multiple stakes races. LGL bought Valbenny for $150,000. She won $600,000 and sold for $1.2 million.
That was 2006, and Wellman had made a name for himself. Along came Barry Irwin, owner of one of the more successful racing groups, Team Valor. Irwin made Wellman a vice president and, in Wellman's words, "taught me a great deal about racing on all fronts."
In the 2010 Breeders' Cup, Team Valor's Pluck won the $1-million Juvenile Turf. In May, they won the Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom and finished second in the Preakness. Wellman, once an 8-year-old lawyer-to-be who had mucked the stalls and hot-walked cheap claimers at Del Mar, had seen the pinnacles of racing success.
So when he went out on his own in August, he did so with a track record.
Eclipse now has nine horses, including six 2-year-olds. Its horses have run in four races, with a first and third by PatriotandProud at Woodbine, and a second in a Grade I at Keeneland, as well as a startling third with Sweet Cat in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Desormais is Eclipse's fifth starter. Wellman says he purchased him because, when he watched the video, he was taken by the ease with which he raced past the leaders on the final turn to win easily Nov. 15. Also, he noted that Desormais is a Kentucky-bred, sired by one of the current best, War Front.
But entering him in the CashCall?
"We've been very blessed, very lucky," Wellman says.
That's hard to argue, just as it is hard to argue that this one is a double squeeze on the four-leaf clover.