LOUISVILLE — They had just endured the lowest moment possible in Thoroughbred racing and, had they walked away then and there, no one would have questioned the passion that brought Marsha Springate, Kelly Colliver and Robert Brewster together in the first place.
But because the trio of friends refused to stop dreaming, they are living out a scenario this week that surpasses their most ambitious aspirations.
On Wednesday, Noble's Promise officially became a Kentucky Derby contender when his name was among the 20 included in the entry box. But to the 24 members of Chasing Dreams Racing who call themselves his owners, Noble's Promise was invaluable long before entering the world's most famous horse race.
The Chasing Dreams crew is a Kentucky-based partnership of friends headed up by Colliver, Brewster, Springate and Ron Holmberg — and the fact the group even exists is a tribute to what can emerge out of tragedy.
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On a fall morning in 2007, Noble Asset — a colt who was owned by a different partnership that included Colliver, Brewster and Springate — was slated to go through a routine workout at Churchill Downs.
Instead of simply savoring the excitement of being owners on the backside, the partners found themselves trying to digest the unthinkable when Noble Asset shattered his shoulder and was subsequently put down.
"Kelly and I were there when he broke down and it was unbelievable," an emotional Brewster recalled. "The last time I ran a horse at Churchill Downs was Noble Asset, so ...it's a lot of memories here."
The only thing more prominent than their grief was their desire to not let it overtake their love for the sport.
Thus, when Brewster, Colliver and Springate received the settlement money from their colt's death, they used a portion of the funds to purchase Noble's Promise as a weanling for $10,000 at the 2007 Keeneland November sale in hopes of later reselling him for profit.
However, when a hurricane blew through Ocala, Fla., during the 2008 August yearling sale there, several of the top buyers stayed home and the bay colt failed to meet his $25,000 reserve.
It was at that point the friends started calling some of their other comrades and partners to see if they would be interested in diving into the whirlwind racing world again.
"Our main goal was to (resell) him and make a little money that way," said Colliver, a Lexington-based real estate appraiser. "We were still kind of sad and we weren't going to get into another racehorse at that time. But when we sent him to Ocala ... nobody would give us $25,000 for him so we sent him to a farm in Ocala to go into training.
"Everybody we know who had passion for the game just joined in with us, and from the first minute he went into training, he's done everything right."
Though Noble's Promise's pedigree leans heavily to the sprinter side, trainer Ken McPeek saw beyond bloodlines and treated him like the classic contender he has now become.
After Noble's Promise won two of his first three career starts, McPeek sent him into the Grade I, 11⁄16-mile Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in October — a move that produced a most emotional winner's circle scene when the colt won the race by half a length to earn a trip to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita the following month.
"This horse is special and I think this is a great American story with him and the people involved with him," McPeek said. "It's the most optimistic group I've ever been around."
Considering several members of the Chasing Dreams group, including Colliver, Brewster and Holmberg, had been part of the Livin the Dream partnership that campaigned 2008 Grade I Darley Alcibiades winner Dream Empress, the idea they were going to the Breeders' Cup with a legitimate contender for a second straight year was mind-blowing.
When Noble's Promise ran third in the Juvenile and came back to finish second behind champion Lookin At Lucky in the Grade I CashCall Futurity to close out his 2-year-old season, his adoring owners knew the modest-priced colt with a pedigree that wasn't supposed to last could well find himself in Louisville come the first Saturday in May.
"For this little horse with what we paid for him to climb to the top of this business, my hat's off to him," Brewster said. "When we bought him, we were just trying to keep the dream alive. I don't know if we're blessed as a group but ... I feel like there's a reason we're here (at the Derby) and there is a reason we have Noble's Promise."
The only time Noble's Promise has been off the board in his eight career starts was a troubled fifth in the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 10, emerging from the race with several cuts and a slight lung infection.
Though his Derby status was in doubt after that effort, Noble's Promise quickly recovered and has been training as if nothing had ever been amiss.
"Noble's Promise is definitely a horse who has not let us down," Colliver said. "Every day is a gift that this horse gives us."