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Crowned King May Race in Kentucky Derby

April 9, 2003

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ Billy McKeever always wanted to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

Now, Billy McKeever Jr. might pay $150,000 just to get Crowned King into the race _ if the colt wins the Arkansas Derby on Saturday.

The elder McKeever bought Crowned King for $20,000 last February from Wafare Farm, a Kentucky breeder. He died in December, five days before his 72nd birthday.

McKeever didn’t leave a will, and after he died his family had to sell the 15 horses in his stable. Billy McKeever Jr., 40, and David McKeever, 47, were the only ones of nine children who wanted to keep racing, so they formed a limited partnership and bought out their siblings for $150,000.

After Crowned King won the Rebel Stakes last month, Billy Jr. didn’t pay the $6,000 to nominate him for the Triple Crown series. He couldn’t afford it.

However, if Crowned King can win Saturday, he won’t hesitate to pay the supplemental fee of $150,000.

``The way I looked at it, and I may have made a wrong decision, we didn’t have the money, and the horse would have to win the Arkansas Derby to earn enough money to qualify for the Kentucky Derby,″ McKeever said. ``Let’s wait to see how he runs.″

Crowned King has won three of 10 starts, but he was a 36-1 long shot when regular jockey Chandra Rennie rode him past Great Notion, Alke, Comic Truth and Sir Cherokee on March 22 to win the $125,000 Rebel. He improved his career winnings to $130,000 in the 1 1/16-mile race, Oaklawn’s final prep for the $500,000 Arkansas Derby.

Winning the Arkansas Derby would be the perfect selling time for a struggling stable trying to make ends meet. Billy McKeever Jr. sold three of his eight yearlings for $80,000 recently so he could keep training the ones he had left.

The $300,000 winnings, coupled with money from selling Crowned King, would help ensure McKeever Racing Stable’s long-term viability. But the brothers want to fulfill their father’s wish.

``On our way back from San Antonio, dad was telling Chandra that he’s been training for a long time and that he had always wanted to get a horse to the Kentucky Derby,″ McKeever said.

``Not to win the Kentucky Derby, but just to run in the Kentucky Derby. That’s what I think about, too. If he runs well in the Arkansas Derby, we’ll have to consider Kentucky because that’s what he would have wanted.″

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