From any viewpoint, By My Standards faces an uphill climb in the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
He made the 20-horse field by earning 100 points as winner of the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, an accomplishment that does not necessarily bode well. Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996) are the only Louisiana Derby victors to go on to take the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
By My Standards, who captured the Louisiana Derby in his first race after breaking his maiden on Feb. 16 at Fair Grounds, will be competing for the first time in six weeks when he enters the Churchill Downs starting gate on Saturday. That interval is not likely to sit well with serious handicappers, either.
Owner Chester Thomas estimates that By My Standards will go off at least 20-1. Then again, Thomas is someone who spent his life taking risks and beating odds.
He grew up in Greenville, Ky., and attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1982. It says much about his makeup that he bet Gato Del Sol even though the 3-year-old was winless in four races that year before the Derby. Gato Del Sol launched a prolonged rally and delivered at 21-1.
Thomas, 60, hardly fits the stereotype of a Derby owner. He enrolled at the University of Kentucky but readily admits he was never serious about his studies. He never reached that finish line.
After several aimless years at Kentucky, he opted to head to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., to prepare himself to become a jockey’s agent. He never reached that finish line, either. He instead wound up working the coal mines in Western Kentucky.
Thomas made up what he lacked in formal education with what he describes as “blue-collar values.” He applied them when he started his own coal-mining business, building it into an enterprise that employed more than 500 people and mined more than three million tons of coal per year, selling it world-wide.
“I was an entrepreneur,” Thomas said. “I wanted to do things and took a lot of risk doing it, and it paid off very well for us.”
He still takes immense pride in knowing he operated a safe coal mine.
Thomas married his wife, Jennifer, in 1989. They have two sons: Ches is 28, Ben is 27.
Thomas sold his coal-mining company in 2012. He now oversees Sunshine Oil & Gas in Madisonville, Ky., in addition to a Thoroughbred operation that includes approximately 75 horses. He became involved in the breeding end as well with 18 broodmares. He is a two-time leading owner at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., who is new to the national stage.
In another example of his willingness to take big swings in life, he spent $100,000 to supplement Mr. Money to the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year and watched contentedly as the youngster came in fourth. By My Standards, a son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, represents his first graded-stakes winner.
“He’s a fanatic about his racing and his horses,” said Bret Calhoun, who trains By My Standards and Mr. Money. “He’s got a high-energy level and he just loves it.”
By My Standards needed four starts to reach the winner’s circle. That victory marked a huge turning point.
“After he broke his maiden, he has become a different horse,” Calhoun said. “We were always high on him before that, but he really had to step forward in the afternoon like we hoped.”
By My Standards will be ridden by Gabriel Saez, who paired with him in the Louisiana Derby. The colt has created a buzz at Churchill Downs with his robust appearance and the vigor with which he is training.
He put in his last major workout on Sunday at Churchill Downs, covering four furlongs in 48.40 for the 12th-fastest of 76 workouts at the distance.
“That couldn’t have gone any better,” Calhoun said. “It’s just a blessing how well he’s doing entering the Derby. He’s doing everything we asked him to do and just moves so effortlessly around the racetrack.”
Thomas sees exciting possibilities; just as he did so many years ago with Gato Del Sol.
“Our horse is training forwardly. He’s improving,” he said.
More than anything, By My Standards possesses the demeanor to succeed.
“This is one of the smartest horses I’ve been around. This guy is so smart,” Thomas said. “Nothing seems to spook him. Nothing seems to turn a hair on him. He’s just a cool cat.”
The same might be said for the horse’s atypical owner.