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TorreAbout 30,000 thoroughbreds are foaled each year in the U.S., 20 of them qualify to be loaded into the starting gate at next month's Kentucky Derby, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre is part-owner of one of them.

On Wednesday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., site of the May 1 $2 million Kentucky Derby, Torre will meet for the first time Homeboykris, then return to Cincinnati in time for that night's Dodgers-Reds game. Barring something unforeseen, Homeboykris has just enough graded-stakes earnings to make the cut for the Run for the Roses.

And Torre admits he's about to come down with a serious case of Derby Fever.

"I think it's going to hit me when I see him," said Torre, who has owned race horses since 2004 but has never seen Homeboykris in person. "It's going to be exciting."

Torre had a runner in the female equivalent of the Derby, the 2005 Kentucky Oaks, in which his Sis City finished fourth as the odds-on favorite. He's never had a starter in the Kentucky Derby. Few horse owners have.

George Steinbrenner, Torre's boss with the Yankees, has had a passion for racing virtually the equal of his love for the Yankees and baseball. Steinbrenner has had six Derby entrants without a win, including 2005 favorite Bellamy Road, who was injured in the race.

"When I think of the Derby, I think of Steinbrenner," said Torre. "That's the one missing piece from his trophy case."

Torre will be the rare Derby horse owner who won't be present at Churchill Downs to watch him run, because that night the Dodgers will be hosting Pittsburgh at Dodger Stadium. He'll watch the race on his office flat screen before batting practice.

 

"I hope my wife gets to go," Torre said. "She's starting to get a little excited."

Torre was re-introduced to racing by his bench coach with the Yankees, Don Zimmer, in 1996. A $300 "investment" became a $600 profit and "that was the end of my life," Torre joked.

Through Zimmer, Torre met trainer Richard Dutrow Sr., then his son Richard Dutrow Jr., who trained 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown and who trains Homeboykris.

The younger Dutrow introduced Torre to the late trainer Bobby Frankel, who included Torre and New York restaurateur Louis Lazzinnaro in a partnership that in 2008 paid $250,000 for Vineyard Haven, an unfashionably bred 2-year-old. Three months and two key wins later, they sold him for a windfall $12 million to the Godolphin Stable of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the United Arab Emirates vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai.

"I always said to Bobby, 'find us a Derby horse.' So he calls and says he's found a horse, didn't say Derby horse, but he says he's found a horse and he's only letting me and Louie in, 'are you interested?"' said Torre.

Torre said yes and didn't ask how much. Frankel retained 60 percent, Torre and Lazzinnaro 20 percent each. In Vineyard Haven's second race for the partnership, he won the $250,000 Grade I Hopeful Stakes. Then he won the $400,000 Grade I Champagne Stakes hours before Torre and the Dodgers clinched the first-round of the playoffs.

It also was the last time Vineyard Haven would race in Torre's name. The sheikh called. Frankel turned down $8 million, then $10 million. But Sheikh Mohammed doesn't take no for an answer.

"We weren't thinking of the money, we were thinking of the excitement of the Derby," said Torre. "Then they offered $12 million and you start thinking how much money that is. Bobby sold him. The next day he had seller's remorse."

Now the partnership is back, living the Derby dream. Lazzinnaro sold to Torre's Diamond Pride Stable some of his interest in Homeboykris, who like Vineyard Haven won the Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old and has been training up to the Derby without recent races while many of his rivals have dueled in the traditional Triple Crown preps.