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Kentucky Oaks starter Kathleen O. making dreams come true for 84-year-old owner Pat Kearney

By Jessie Oswald
NKyTribune contributor

What do you do when you’re 84 years old, already have a little money set aside for the family’s inheritance and looking to get into a new hobby?

If you’re Pat Kearney and one of your acquaintances is Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, you buy a couple of racehorses and see where it goes.

And where it’s gone is to the most prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies, the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks at historic Churchill Downs.

McGaughey sends out the undefeated Kathleen O. for Kearney’s Winngate Stables in today’s 148th running of the Kentucky Oaks. The second choice at morning line odds of 7-2, the filly will break from post 10 in a full field of 14 with jockey Javier Castellano aboard for the 1 1/8-mile test.

Kathleen O. in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (Photo by Coglianese Photo, via Kentuckyderby.com)

“I know the odds to have something like this happen are insurmountable,” said Kearney looking on as his filly was bathed before a group of onlookers gathered outside her Churchill Downs barn. “It just doesn’t happen. Here it is, the first horse I’ve ever owned, at the age I am, now 84, and I did it just to have some fun. And it’s just incredible, it’s wonderful.”

Kearney, a former securities lawyer and co-owner of a food flavoring company from Wilmette, Ill., retired to Miami with his wife of 57 years and the filly’s namesake the former Kathy O’Boyle, or as her father called her, Kathleen. Kearney and McGaughey belong to Indian Creek Country Club in Miami and occasionally played golf together or chatted in the locker room before one day Kearney probed McGaughey about the horse business.

“I tell you what I’m going to do, I’ll bring you a couple of invoices,” McGaughey told Kearney. “I brought him a high invoice and a low invoice, just so he would have some sort of an idea and he handed them back the next day and he said ‘this doesn’t bother me.’”

The duo was off to the races and the following April McGaughey signed the tickets on a filly and a colt at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, both consigned by Niall Brennan who is a leading developer of 2-year-olds and has produced such stars as Essential Quality and 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Although the colt Kearney and McGaughey purchased, later named Cloudy, was sidelined after two races and is just now getting back to training, the filly, now known as Kathleen O., has given the Kearneys a ride of a lifetime and an opportunity that the wealthiest of horsemen would envy.

Pat Kearney, center, and connections following Kathleen O.’s victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (Photo by Coglianese Photo)

“It’s just been a dream, it’s fantastic,” said Kearney. “I’m just so new to this and it’s been so exciting. It’s really rejuvenated me.”

Purchased for $275,000, Kathleen O. is a daughter of Upstart out of the Blame mare Quaver. She broke her maiden at first asking and jumped into stakes company five weeks later with a dominant 8 ½-length win in the Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. As fate would have it, that race was held on New Year’s Day while the Kearneys’ daughter, son-in-law, and their teenage children were in town for the holidays.

“The grandkids had never been to the racetrack before — they didn’t even know I owned a horse,” beamed Kearney. “We went to the track and saw the horse win! They just got a big kick out of going into the winner’s circle.”

In March, Kathleen O. advanced to the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park and cruised to a two-length win, only to follow it with a nearly three-length win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks a month later.

The immediate success Kearney has found in his first venture into horse ownership may have others looking to catch lightning in a bottle as easily as Kearney.

“I’d probably say find somebody else,” joked McGaughey when asked what he would tell the next retiree to ask him about getting into the business. “But no, it just shows that it can be done and that a novice can do something like this. The good thing about Mr. Kearney is that he’s in it for the fun, where others might be in it for the publicity or the financial aspects of it, that’s got nothing to do with him.”

No, Kearney is not your typical owner and even turned down multiple offers to purchase a piece of Kathleen O. that included options to trade a share in a Kentucky Derby horse for a share in his Kentucky Oaks filly.

Kathleen O.’s success and ability to progress with each race has landed her among the top fillies in her crop and landed her owner in a race that is on the bucket list of any owner or trainer.

The Kentucky Oaks and the excitement in Louisville during Derby week is an experience unlike no other with an atmosphere just as unique.

“He’s got no idea what he’s getting ready to get into,” said McGaughey. “He’s been to Gulfstream with 5,000 people there. He’s getting ready to see a different ballgame here this week, but I think he’ll enjoy it.”

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