LOUISVILLE, Ky. (FOX 56) — Running in the Kentucky Derby is the opportunity of a lifetime for any connection in horse racing.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me look just enjoy it enjoy the week don’t get too caught up in it and that’s what I’ve been trying to do just enjoy the being here,” jockey Jareth Loveberry said.
Loveberry only dreamed of this opportunity, beginning his jockey career when he was 16 years old at a small bullring racetrack: Great Lakes Downs up in Michigan, running little four furlong races with purses of maybe a few thousand dollars.
“It’s all about just winning races and it’s the love of the game,” Loveberry said, a Mt. Pleasant, Michigan native.
Connecting with trainer Larry Rivelli took his career to a new level, a journeyman jockey in the circuit winning riding titles and eventually getting the chance to ride a beautiful chestnut colt named Two Phil’s.
“I’ve known Jareth a long time when he was riding at smaller tracks when I would run horses there I would use him and I always thought he was better than those tracks when he was riding so I sought Jareth out to be my number 1 rider in Chicago,” Rivelli said.
This thoroughbred colt was on a new level himself, finishing in the money in a couple Kentucky Derby prep races and Loveberry had been aboard every step of the way. In March, they were set to run in their biggest races to date: the Jeff Ruby Steaks up at Turfway Park, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Derby. But then, a heart-stopping moment happened.
“So three weeks before the Jeff Ruby I had a hairline fracture in my left fibula in my leg and wasn’t sure if I was gonna be able to make it back or not,” Loveberry said.
An injury aboard a different horse, completely unrelated, and thinking about losing the chance to run in his first career Kentucky Derby was devastating.
“During that time I’m like man am I gonna make it back to ride this horse and because I know what he can do and if I was gonna miss that chance to get here it was a lot of stress for that first couple weeks after the injury,” Loveberry said.
Fortunately it was a non-weight bearing bone with the fracture not being as bad as initially thought, so with some therapy he’s toughing out the pain to ride Two Phil’s, winning the Jeff Ruby and soon will saddle up in The Run For The Roses.
“My wife and I were up until like 2 in the morning like are you sleeping no is this real like it probably didn’t hit for a good week it’s like ok this is happening we’re going to the Derby,” Loveberry said.
A reflective moment for Loveberry who always thinks about his family. His two younger brothers worked on the same horse farm he worked at when he was a kid.
His older brother Justin Ellsworth skipped the equine industry and joined the Marine Corps. In 2004, Justin was killed by an IED in Iraq. He helped shield others from the blast and earned a posthumous bronze star for heroic service as Lance Corporal.
“Pretty proud I mean he was there protecting me when I was a little kid and he died protecting his brothers in the Marines,” Loveberry said.
Loveberry said his favorite day to win races is Memorial Day because of his big brother. He will certainly be running for him on the first Saturday in May.
Two Phil’s finished 2nd in Kentucky Derby 149, behind Mage, but is expected to continue to run throughout the horse racing season.