Having a Billings-owned horse running in the Kentucky Derby next Saturday is going to be "absolutely phenomenal" from a business and pleasure standpoint, said Jill Lindell, owner of the two local Won $800 Casinos.
"It's fantastic," she said. "I believe it will be one of our biggest days of the year. We've got quite a following going on with Frac Daddy. It's going to be a pretty big event."
Lindell said she has already been fielding inquiries from local people interested in placing a Derby bet on the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old gray colt, co-owned by Billings oilmen Carter Stewart and Ken Schlenker of Magic City Thoroughbred Partners.
That has prompted the Won $800 simulcast wagering sites (located at 603 24th Street West and 4907 Southgate Drive) to begin gearing up for big crowds for the 139th Run for the Roses, which will take place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Horse players will be able to wager on Frac Daddy, a long shot, and also watch him race as part of a 20-horse field covering 1 1/4 miles. Post time for America's greatest horse race is around 4:24 p.m. (Mountain time), and it will be televised by NBC.
"When people hear Kentucky Derby and then a connection from Montana, they want to be a part of it," Lindell said. "Everybody wants to have a piece of that. It's just such a fantastic play."
There are just eight simulcast sites around the state, including the Golden Spur Casino in Miles City.
At the Won $800 Casinos in Billings, Derby wagering will be possible as early as Friday, Lindell said. Race programs will be available on Thursday for both Friday's Kentucky Oaks and Saturday's Derby cards.
The location on 24th Street is also looking into the possibility of adding a drive-thru betting terminal.
"We're doing our very best to accommodate everyone who wants to get a bet in," Lindell said.
"We're already taking reservations for seating," added Justin Oviatt, who handles the advertising and marketing for the two casinos.
Both locations are open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. For more details, call 652-1082 or 259-2800 or go to www.won800casino.com.
Help will be available at both casinos for handicapping and wagering, Oviatt said.
Besides looking at Frac Daddy's success from the business side, Lindell also can recall co-owning horses with Stewart just a few years ago at MetraPark's Yellowstone Downs.
"We're just thrilled that all of this has happened this way," she said. "It's not a fluke that someone ends up in the Derby. I mean, it has taken a lot of hard work."
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The latest odds on Frac Daddy winning are 40-1 — and Lindell hopes they stay that way.
"So everybody cashes in big," she added with a smile.
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Despite his underdog status, Frac Daddy, a big, long-striding colt, does have a history of running well on the dirt at Churchill Downs.
The last time Frac Daddy raced there was on Nov. 24 in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He finished second by a neck to Uncaptured — Canada's Horse of the Year — in the 13-horse race covering 1 1/16 miles.
He also broke his maiden at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3 with a resounding victory by over nine lengths.
Those November highlights established Frac Daddy as a contender for the Triple Crown races. However, throat lesions, a hoof injury and his youthfulness all conspired to slow his momentum early in 2013.
He emerged from that tough stretch, though, with a runner-up finish at the Arkansas Derby on April 13, which secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby and capped quite a comeback.
“He’s young,” Stewart said. “We knew we had a pretty good horse coming down the pike. It’s just the growing process in these young horses and their maturing process. It takes them a while.
“Even the jockeys will tell you in the early races that ‘these are just babies. Don’t worry. They’ll mature.’ I think the maturing process will go right on up through the Derby. (Trainer) Ken McPeek said that he’s getting better every day.”
And coming off a strong series of workouts this week by Frac Daddy, McPeek said on Friday: "I think this will be his best race in his career — and it will have to be. The horse is doing fantastic, and all things are go."
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While they have Montana roots, Frac Daddy’s owners are already familiar with the celebrity scene that also surrounds the Derby.
Stewart and Schlenker had a thoroughbred, Golden Ticket, running on the undercard at Churchill Downs last year.
After their race was over, they got to watch the Derby with NFL quarterbacks Matt Cassel (Kansas City Chiefs) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots) and some other football players from a patio table.
“We met Matt Cassel waiting in the line to bet,” Stewart said. “He was a super nice guy. He invited us to come out and watch the actual race out on the patio. When we got out there, Tom Brady was there.
“He introduced us to Tom Brady. So we got to watch the race standing there at Tom Brady’s and Matt Cassel’s table.”
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Despite Frac Daddy's lanky stature, McPeek said the colt is "easy to be around. He's easy to handle.
"A piece of cake," McPeek added.
Speaking of treats, in an interview this week with the Lady and the Track website, McPeek also mentioned that Frac Daddy has a fondness for peppermints and Guinness beer.