Louisville native Paul Hornung may best be known for his football career as a versatile Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers player, Heisman Trophy winner, and football Hall of Famer, but he hopes to one day add Kentucky Derby winner to his moniker.
Hornung co-owns Louisiana Derby contender Titletown Five with, among others, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and former Green Bay teammate Willie Davis. The Tiznow colt broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last October with a nine-length win margin. In his last start he placed in the Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn Park Mar. 2. Currently, Titletown Five has zero points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, which replaced graded earnings as the qualifier for Kentucky Derby entry.
A win or second place finish in Saturday’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, La. would likely guarantee Titletown Five a berth in the Kentucky Derby. The winner will receive 100 points, 40 points to the place finisher, 20 to third, and 10 to fourth. With only five weeks to the Kentucky Derby, Saturday’s race may be Titletown Five’s only shot to make the first Saturday in May.
“But one win—and I can't sleep at night when I think about one win,” the 77-year-old Hornung told reporters in a national conference call last week. “And I'll be down in New Orleans, you know, and I think it's appropriate. I was the first New Orleans Saint who signed a contract out of Green Bay when the Saints became a part of the National Football League, and it would be ironic if winning that race, the Louisiana Derby, would propel, you know, Titletown to a shot at the Kentucky Derby. It would be the biggest thrill of my life, no question.”
A 1953 graduate of the old Flaget High school in Louisville, Hornung grew up with not only a passion for football, but a passion for horse racing and the Kentucky Derby.
“I worked at Churchill Downs when I was a kid,” said Hornung. “I lied about my age when I was 13 to become an Andy Frain usher and make $40 on Saturday, which was a huge amount when I was 13 years old. So this has been a special race for me. If I could win—be a part of a winning Derby, for heaven sakes, this would be the greatest thrill of my life.”
Hornung’s been to almost every Derby since he was a kid, missing the 1963 edition after wagering on NFL games landed him on suspension from the Green Bay Packers. Laying low for the year, Hornung was reinstated and went on to an illustrious career, but gambling hasn’t left his system.
Talking about the horse racing education he obtained from his time at Churchill Downs and the various trainers and jockeys he met along the way, Hornung said, “I learned how to make a wager, and believe me, if my horse would win the Derby, I'm going to break Las Vegas.”
Titletown Five will break from post 10 in Saturday’s 100th running of the Grade 2 $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby where he will face a field of 13 contenders going the 1 1/8 mile route. Jockey Jon Court will be in the irons.
“Win or lose, this has been the greatest year of my life as far as enjoying myself watching the horses,” said Hornung.
Photo: Courtesy PaulHornungAward.com