BALTIMORE — The first money Paul Hornung made at the racetrack was not at the $2 window. It was made by borrowing — no, make that collecting — Kentucky Derby souvenir glasses.
I need to ask security not to read the next five paragraphs. I don’t want Hornung and his party hassled as they prepare to race Titletown Five in the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, Saturday at Pimlico.
Before he had the means to headline a group that paid $250,000 for a yearling, before he won NFL championships with the Green Bay Packers, and before he was voted the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, Hornung was just another kid hustling his way out of the Portland neighborhood in western Louisville, working as an usher at Churchill Downs.
Derby Day was special — and not simply because of the tips. The experienced guys in the ushering crew taught him the tricks. When the crowd stood to watch the Derby horses bounce on to the track, the teenaged ushers walked behind them and borrowed — no, collected — the Derby souvenir glasses they placed on the bleacher seats.
There were always people outside the track looking to pay good money for fresh souvenirs.
“One year I made about $150 selling Derby glasses,” Hornung said. “That’s a lot of money when you’re 15 years old.”
Today Hornung is 77 — as is D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Famer who trains Titletown Five — a name borrowed from Green Bay and Hornung’s number as a player. Hornung and Lukas headline the ownership group with another former Packer — Willie Davis — and Ed Martin.
Some look at the colt’s racing record (one win in seven starts) and howl that Hornung and Lukas are throwing a “Hail Mary.” Titletown Five is the Jacksonville Jaguars of this formidable Preakness field. The colt will start from the third post position with morning line odds of 30-1.
Hornung disagrees. He’s not coming to Baltimore for the souvenir glasses. There is a reason the colt fetched a quarter-million at the prestigious Keeneland September yearling sale. He is by Tiznow, the two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Hornung will be thrilled to continue debating the point when he arrives at Pimlico this morning. Hornung is traveling from Los Angeles, where he was visiting Sherrill Sipes, his teammate at Louisville Flaget High School and Notre Dame, who is battling an infection.
Even in the Golden Boy’s golden years, there’s still plenty of Vince Lombardi in Hornung’s pedigree. He and Lukas have scripted a specific game plan for jockey Julian Leparoux on Saturday.
“If Julian [Leparoux, the colt’s jockey] rides him the way we want, we’ll finish in the top three,” Hornung said. “We need to be laying second or third around the backside and then make our move heading for home. When we go out too fast, we’re in trouble.
“We beat Orb once. Why can’t we do it again?”
Probably because Titletown Five’s record shows he prefers shorter races and that he needed time to recover from surgery to remove bone chips last fall. He raced four times at 2, finally delivering his first victory in his fourth start at Churchill Downs on Oct. 28.
That was not the day he beat Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite. That race came on Aug.18 at Saratoga. Making his first career start, Orb finished third, just behind Titletown Five and the winner Violence, who has left the Triple Crown chase.
“He’s a very talented horse,” Lukas said. “He’s been behind all spring, but he’s got a lot of ability. He’s a beautiful mover.”
This year Orb has won all four of his starts — and Titletown Five has finished second, ninth in the Louisiana Derby, and fourth. The fourth-place performance came in the Derby Trial on April 27 at Churchill Downs. Hornung briefly considered bringing the colt back for the Derby, but knew that was the wrong move.
So he waited for Baltimore — and Cal Ripken might be the only person who has had more fun in Baltimore than Paul Hornung.
Baltimore is where he scored five touchdowns, two on pass receptions of 50 and 65 yards, against the Colts in 1965. Baltimore is the place he still eagerly visits every year to sign autographs at a memorabilia show. He has also been a regular at the Preakness, inviting his NFL pals to celebrate with him.
Hornung’s not likely to crash the winner’s circle at Pimlico on Saturday. But if he does, Bob Costas better be ready to share the NBC microphone.
“Are you kidding me?” he said. “It’s always been my dream to win the Kentucky Derby. We weren’t able to do that. But if we could get the Preakness, we’ll have some fun with that.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, and WDRB-TV of Louisville. Rick Bozich is a columnist for WDRB.