May 6, 2014
By Peter Clark
Local owner’s Derby horse surges into surprising second-place finish
Commanding Curve, partly owned by Issaquah resident Dennis Poppe, overcame long-shot status to finish second in the Kentucky Derby.
As the early morning official Churchill Downs odds rolled out May 3, the 3-year-old colt sat at 37-1 — a far cry from favorite by any definition. Poppe and his wife traveled to Louisville, Ky., simply glad to take part in the excitement. He went in not disappointed in the odds and came away overjoyed at the results.
“We were just hopeful that he would finish fifth,” Poppe said.
While his wife and the other 11 owners of Commanding Curve waited in box seats for the 140th running of the derby, Poppe said he went to see the horse walk around an exhibition paddock on the way to the track. Knowing he wouldn’t have enough time to push through some of the other 165,000 attendees to get back to the box, he found his way trackside to watch the race.
Surrounded by photographers, he wasn’t technically allowed to watch from that place, but he had good company.
“One of the photographers turned to me and said, ‘Do you see who’s next to you?’” he said. “I turned and looked and it was Bo Derek. I got to watch the race with Bo Derek.”
When he could take his eyes away from her and watch the race, Poppe said it didn’t get off to a good start for Commanding Curve. But while the race favorite California Chrome pulled ahead for first, the other alliteratively named horse broke into a late dash.
“He was second to last for most of the race,” he said. “It wasn’t until that last quarter of the race that he started pulling ahead. It was an incredible moment.”
With such high odds, the official track winnings for Commanding Curve paid out $31.80 for a $2 second-place bet.
Poppe said it was bad luck to bet on one’s own horse. However, he said with a laugh that such a superstition does not apply to family and friends.
“At our table, there was a lot of money made,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many hundred dollar bills. All of the people at our table were so excited.”
Of course, $2 pales in comparison to the $400,000 purse, which Poppe will split with the other owners and management company West Point Thoroughbreds.
Poppe traveled to the Derby with his Renton boyhood friend Ed Barker, whose horse Wicked Strong finished fourth. Poppe remained incredulous over the odds that not only brought two longtime friends to the Kentucky Derby with competing horses, but the enormous probability that would find both finishing in the top four.
“It was such a big weekend and it still feels unreal,” Poppe said. “The city was great. The race was the best. Now, on to the other Triple Crown races.”
With the win, Commanding Curve will continue on to the next leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, in Baltimore, Md.