It’s a beautiful sight seeing the winning horse of the Kentucky Derby being wrapped in roses as everyone cheers wildly from the stands.
However, this year there was another horse, a winner in his own right that deserved cheers and at least one rose.
His name … Storm in May. Blind in one eye, he ran the course and finished 16th place out of 20 horses.
In the crowd at Church Hills Downs was Kent Hersman, a United States Army Officer on special leave from active duty in South Korea. He came to watch the half-blind horse he had bred and was now running in the Kentucky Derby. This was an event worth traveling around the world to see.
Only twice in the past 25 years has a half blind horse made the Derby lineup, much less finished the race.
Columnist, Mike Hutsell, of the Jeffersonville, Indiana Evening News and Tribune wrote this about Storm in May:
Still searching for that underdog pick that you can’t help but get behind and root for? Can’t quite find that “Little Engine that Could” for that tug at your heartstrings kind of selection that you can get behind this year on Kentucky Derby day.
In a sport that needs real feel-good flavor coming off the tragic heels of the Barbaro tale in 2006 — there’s one out there that conjures up the names of Rocky or Rudy or any David who dared tread in the land of Goliaths.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve finally got one.
Storm in May, trained by relative unknown trainer Bill Kaplan, is that underdog tale.
Writing from Louisville, Kentucky, the newspaper headline by Associated Press columnist, Jim Litke, said “Storm In May Made Derby Trip With One Eye” and further describes the remarkable feat of this horse.
Cover your right eye. Now imagine being loaded into a starting gate alongside the best thoroughbreds in the land. The gate flings open and just ahead and to either side, 19 other horses are jostling for position as the first turn draws near. Then add 100,000 or so railbirds in full roar, throwing off as many decibels as a jet engine on takeoff.
That’s how Saturday’s Kentucky Derby looked and sounded to a long gray colt with one good eye named Storm in May.
“He’s been that way since a week after his birth,” trainer Bill Kaplan said Friday morning as a thick mist blanketed the backstretch at Churchill Downs.
A few yards away, the colt bent over and nibbled at the grass, his right ear cocked to track nearby sounds like a radar.
Storm in May, a grandson of Storm Cat and a great-grandson of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, was born with a pedigree worthy of a Derby horse, but that wasn’t all.
A corneal ulcer in his right eye required an operation almost immediately after birth.That surgery went well enough, but several days later, a veterinarian trying to clear up a complication inadvertently punctured the eye.
The only consolation was that the vision in Storm in May’s left eye was perfect.
“And as long as he knows where the rail is,” Kaplan explained, “he won’t get pushed into it or jump it. The rest of the trip he can figure out for himself.
“The blessing is that he doesn’t know he’s different than anyone else,” Kaplan said.
“I’m one of those people who don’t believe anything happens by chance,” said Kent Hersman, a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army who bred and trained Storm in May before selling him as a 2-year-old.
“So maybe there’s somebody out there that needs to see this horse do well.“
From time to time, everybody takes a bad hit in life.
Storm is that inspiration that says, ‘Get back up and give it your best shot.’ Because if nothing else,” Hersman added, “he’ll teach you to enjoy the trip.”
And it’s been a remarkable enough journey already.
Storm in May is one horse that deserves that rose.