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From bargain rack to the winner's circle

Bunk N Ted, a $30,000 purchase, can solidify standing as a Kentucky Derby contender today.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002


OLDSMAR -- Danny Hutt stares across the hood of his dark blue jeep, leans slightly forward against the bumper, and makes a bold prediction.

That photogenic roan colt in Stall 1, just around the corner, is going to be the favorite to win Kentucky Derby.

A million different things could make him wrong. Among them is the fact he's tending to business on the backside of Tampa Bay Downs this morning, not at Gulfstream or Aqueduct, higher-profile checkpoints on the Triple Crown trail.

But he's not kidding. He thinks today's Grade III $200,000 Tampa Bay Derby is just going to prove him even right.

"I've had other horses that have done more than this horse has done, but I think there is a lot in the future for this one," Hutt said, leaning back. "I'm hoping the future is right now."

Bunk N Ted, named after two friends of Hutt's business partner, Brook Smith, has won twice at Tampa Bay Downs, including the Sam F. Davis Stakes. Today he will be ridden by Pat Day.

"He rides for me when I have one good enough," Hutt said, laughing.

Trainer John Ward was referring to Saturday's Florida Derby when he said, "More people will get off the (Kentucky) Derby trail this weekend than will get on," but it applies today also. Hutt wants to send Bunk N Ted to the April 13 Blue Grass Stakes next, but he needs to see a good effort today in his fourth start.

"I think he'll run well, and I think he'll win," Hutt said.

Nick Zito is in the same position in the Tampa Bay Derby with Inaugural Address, who has competed, but not distinguished himself, against Derby hopefuls.

"This is a good spot to see if they are going to take the step up," Zito said.

Hutt, 53, is used to his projects doing just that. The co-owner of a national automotive service center chain, he became interested in horses through osmosis as a native of Louisville. He bought a trotting horse and trained trotters and thoroughbreds in his spare time.

The hobby soon became a full-time job and he left the auto business for partners to run. He has 12 horses in training, all of which spent some time at Tampa Bay Downs this meet.

Success came slowly, but surely as he and various partners began acquiring horses that Hutt trained. Seven years into the thoroughbred game, Hutt, who had attended more than 30 Kentucky Derbys, saddled his first 3-year-old under the spires the first Saturday in May. Celtic Warrior finished 10th in the 1997 Derby, no threat at all to Silver Charm, but Hutt knew he was in for the duration.

Hutt had a solid two-year run with Cowboy Dan, who won the 1997 Arlington-Washington Futurity (Grade II) and $200,000 Cradle Stakes.

Then, at the September 2000 yearling sale at Keeneland, Hutt spotted a long and lanky roan with a bit of Cigar's bloodline in him. At a record-setting sale in which the average horse cost $621,015, this one was lost in the discount bin.

"No one was interested in a $30,000 horse," Hutt said. "My range was $30,000-80,000, ... I got 15 horses for $800,000."

Like Celtic Warrior and Cowboy Dan, both of whom Hutt bought for around the same price, Bunk N Ted is becoming a value. Celtic Warrior earned around $250,000. Cowboy Dan made twice that. Bunk N Ted, despite wins in all three lifetime races, lags behind with $53,165, but the winner's share of the Kentucky Derby purse is about $800,000.

"We've gotten a lot of sizzle for the amount of money we've put into it," he said.

That would be a lot of sizzle.

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