Derby is sure bet to be exciting for Torre

Derby is sure bet to be exciting for Torre

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre owes it to Don Zimmer, his former bench coach, for introducing him into the horse racing fold when the two were with the Yankees in the mid-1990s. But it was Frank Torre, one of Joe's older brothers, who kindled Torre's love for the sport when Joe was barely 20.

"It'd be in the winter time we'd go to the harness racing in New York in the spring," Torre said. "We'd be in Florida before Spring Training, we'd go to the dog track, we'd go to the thoroughbreds."

"It's just exciting. Much more exciting when you're in person with it because you can hear it. These horses are athletes, and to watch them coming down the stretch ... "

Torre won't be able to watch Saturday's 136th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in person -- the Dodgers play the Pirates in the third of a four-game series in a 7:10 p.m. PT start at Dodger Stadium. But Torre might be a little delayed for batting practice, choosing instead to stay in his office with the television on. For the first time, a horse Torre partially owns will be running for the roses.

In October, Torre invested a 10 percent stake in Homeboykris, trained by Rick Dutrow Jr. -- the same trainer who took Big Brown to victory in the 2008 Derby. Ramon Dominguez is the jockey. Torre also went to Las Vegas in October and made a futures bet on the long shot to win Saturday.

"I don't have to do anything, that's the best part about it," Torre said when asked how he'll feel watching his horse in the first leg of the Triple Crown. "I think I'd be nervous if I had something to do. I already bet on my horse a long time ago. ... He's doing very well, and far as winning, there's a lot of talent. It's like a marathon when you have 20 horses, and it's supposed to be bad conditions tomorrow."

Post time is scheduled for 3:24 p.m. PT. Homeboykris, on the 19th post, had 50-to-1 odds to win entering Friday, but Torre later in the day heard the odds had improved to as much as 15-to-1.

"I think I found a lot of Dodger and Yankees fans who are betting two bucks to win," said Torre, who will be interviewed by NBC's Bob Costas from Dodger Stadium before the race. Torre's wife, Ali, and other family members will be at Churchill Downs.

Torre tried to go to the Derby once in 1961, when he was playing Triple-A ball in Louisville and had just gotten back from a road trip. He even had tickets for his two sisters and mother. Torre had his hotels mixed up, and didn't find his family until later that evening, spending the day instead looking for them.

"It's like never celebrating the Fourth of July," Torre said of never watching the run live.

Torre invested in about three horses this fall, and paid a relatively high price for Homeboykris because he had just won the Champagne Stakes, held at Belmont Park. That win led to Homeboykris' eligibility, although he did not officially make the starting field of 20 until another horse dropped out.

Down from ownership in about 17 horses at his peak, Torre has stakes in five or six now. It's an expensive hobby. The only horse he has owned entirely was one he invested in with legendary trainer Bobby Frankel, who passed away in November.

Dodgers backup catcher A.J. Ellis, who has lived in Louisville, Ky., since eighth grade and remembers baseball games stopping for the race, split a bet on Homeboykris with Torre in the team pool.

"He's only run a handful of times, we don't know," Torre said of Homeboykris' chances in the predicted rain and mud. "The only thing we do know is he's been training very well. Distance may be an issue for him, too."

Added Torre: "You've got to be lucky."

Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.