Think back to the initial days of Arlington’s racing season a year ago, and how an unfamiliar Russian-born trainer named Gennadi Dorochenko arrived on the Chicago scene as a total unknown with little but the visionary foresight of Arlington racing secretary Chris Polzin to recommend him.
At the time, the native of Krasnodar, Russia, had horses that were something of an anomaly – including stock purchased at the Keeneland sales for bottom-feeder prices that had subsequently begun their circuitous racing careers at unfamiliar courses in Poland and Russia.
Understandably, most of them went off at indifferent odds when making their Arlington debuts, and when few of them visited the winner’s circle, those indifferent odds gradually became disrespectful in subsequent trips to the post.
“Horses are like people, they are all different,” said Dorochenko at the time. “We are trying to figure out where they fit best. Some may like the Polytrack here, some may not. We’ll just keep trying different things with different horses until we figure out exactly where they belong.
“I do have what I think is going to be a nice filly named Santina Dond,” Dorochenko noted of a Vladamir Kazakov color bearer. “I have high hopes for her this summer.”
However, while Dorochenko held onto his patience and kept his head during the first half of the season, the local punters increasingly lost theirs. Consequently, on Arlington Million Day last Aug. 13 when Santina Dond surged to a neck tally in the $65,000 Hatoof Stakes, she returned $64.40 for a $2 win wager.
When the 2011 Arlington session ended, Dorochenko headed to Fair Grounds and The Big Easy, where his hard life continued as a man who chooses to get on all of his own horses during training hours.
“Everybody thinks this is an easy business, but I have to work hard every day to keep my horses running,” Dorochenko said midway through his first Crescent City season.
“I gallop all of them myself,” the former jockey said. “I don’t ever have time to take a day off. I haven’t had a day off in almost 19 years. But that’s all right. Life is all about trying.”
However, once again, the Louisiana wagering public and simulcast fans from all over the nation gradually dismissed his horses due to his low win percentage.
“I don’t have big expensive horses like those I run against in the big races,” said Dorochenko. “Those other horses are like Ferraris. My horses are like bicycles. Fair Grounds is a very tough place to try to win, but if you don’t run them, they can’t win.”
At the time, Dorochenko’s most promising horse was a 3-year-old Sharp Humor colt named Hero of Order, who raced in Dorochenko’s Raut LLC silks. Hero of Order ran fifth in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes, first leg of the local sophomore series, as part of an entry that went off at 57.60-1. Sent back in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes as the final preview of the Louisiana Derby, Hero of Order finished a respectable fourth at 79.30-1.
Undiscouraged, Dorochenko intimated that he was still planning on running Hero of Order in the $1 million Louisiana Derby – and he did that with Hero of Order going to the post at an astronomical 109.40-1.
What followed on the race run on April Fool’s Day, was the largest win price of the New Orleans winter racing season when Hero of Order returned $220.80 to those who wagered $2 to win. It was also the largest win price ever posted in the 99 runnings of the Louisiana Derby.
Asked if he bet, Dorochenko gave out a look reserved for someone who probably would need instruction on what a bear might do in the woods.
“What do you think?” Dorochenko said when talking during Arlington training hours Tuesday morning, as the ever-present cigarette hung from his lips. After a few moments, the reticent Russian expanded, with what for him was something of a soliloquy.
“You know, sometimes,” he said, taking another drag on his cigarette for the proper dramatic pause, “sometimes you can sneak away from a Ferrari on a bicycle. What I showed the people down in New Orleans is that when it comes to horses, I know what I’m doing.”