LOUISVILLE — Kenny Troutt and Bill Casner first hooked up in the late 1970s when they attempted to claim the same horse at old Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Neb. It wasn't long, however, before both men stepped away from racing to build successful businesses: Troutt started Excel Communications, a long-distance telephone service and communications company, while Casner founded B&R Equipment.
The duo decided to get back into racing after a 16-year hiatus, but it came with a caveat.
"We both left racing at 31, and at that time, we both walked away and vowed we wouldn't come back until we could do it at a high level," Casner said.
Troutt and Casner hit the ground running upon their return, as they got involved with the Texas-based Art, Jack and J.R. Preston as part of a group that owned and raced 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop.
Troutt and Casner then bought the former 1,450-acre Prestonwood Farm in Versailles and turned it into WinStar Farm. After Victory Gallop finished second in the 1998 Kentucky Derby, WinStar followed with another runner-up, Bluegrass Cat, who was second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. WinStar was also the breeder of 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide.
Troutt and Casner got the biggest victory of their careers when their horse, Super Saver, took home the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
"When you can walk into the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby, it's like putting that cherry on top of that ice cream," Casner said. "And we feel like we eat ice cream every day in this business."
It wasn't an easy week for WinStar leading up to the race, as two of its Derby horses, Endorsement and Rule, were withdrawn from consideration. WinStar's other horse, American Lion, finished 11th.
"Any time you have a chance to run four horses and you have to take two out, it's very very hard," Troutt said. "I was feeling sorry for myself, but then I thought that there were a lot of people who would trade places with us. This is just God's way of testing us. If we believe and honor him he will give us what we deserve."
Troutt confessed to always being "supernervous" at race time but got some peace of mind from his 9-year-old daughter.
"She came to me and said, 'Dad, I think this is our year,'" he said. "'I really think this horse is going to win.' That's all I could think about, and I became so calm. When that horse ran by the finish line it was unbelievable."
WinStar has a band of about 100 broodmares and the farm is home to seven stallions, including Bluegrass Cat and Distorted Humor, Funny Cide's sire. Troutt and Casner called Super Saver's performance a "team effort."
"Our team at WinStar has done an unbelievable job," Casner said. "They cross all the t's and dot all the i's. This victory belongs to our team. The people who make this happen are the grooms and the hotwalkers. They live pretty obscure lives, but they love their horses. You've got to give back to those people, and that's something Kenny and I enjoy doing."
Casner said the road to yesterday's Derby crown began when he and Troutt met as 25-year-olds and tried to claim that same horse in Omaha.
"The early days gave us the foundation to come back in this business," he said. "One thing we understood is you have to surround yourself with good people, ethical people who have passion. One thing that separates the hallmark of our program is we have people that truly love horses, care about they do, and have the work ethic. It's what they do and who they are."