IT was a favourite backer’s dream.
Sitting in fifth Mo Donegal stalked the leaders all the way, waiting for his moment.
A furlong out and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr made his move.
A shake of the reins, a dip of the head and it was all over, the bay colt sprinting to the front to land Donegal Racing its first Triple Crown win.
For Ohio lawyer Jerry Crawford and his team it was one they will never forget.
For those not in the know, Mo Donegal’s success largely went under the radar on this side of the Atlantic. Had more people spotted it, chances are they would have had a bet, purely on name alone.
For many Irish punters Mo Donegal was, quite literally, the one that got away.
But where did the horse come from? Why the name? And why the green and yellow silks worn by the stable’s jockeys?
Speaking to the Donegal News from Des Moines, Donegal Racing Chief Executive Jerry Crawford explained that it was down to a love of a county his ancestors departed almost two centuries ago.
“One of my descendants came here from Donegal in about 1817, they came to Ohio and then eventually to the Midwest.
“Because of my lineage I made several trips over and on one of those trips I brought my son Conor to play golf. We saw the county flag, the yellow and green blocks, and I said to my son that would be a great set of silks. So we came home and designed it.
“That was before Donegal Racing even existed so we had the colours before we had the name.”
Jerry Crawford can trace his ancestors back to Drumholm between Ballyshannon and Donegal Town. But records also show family links to Fahan.
And it is on these connections he has built what has become an incredibly successful equine business.
Donegal Racing was formed in 2008 by Jerry and nine partners. They spent $500,000 buying eight colts at auction, the most expensive being Paddy O’Prado. He quickly repaid his owners by finishing third in the 2010 Kentucky Derby and winning five graded races – a total earnings of $1.7 million.
Mo Donegal is a relatively new addition to the fold but has already more than quadrupled the €250,000 that was paid for him in 2020.
The Mo is from his sire, Uncle Mo. The Donegal comes purely from a transatlantic love of the county.
“Everyone in this country loves Ireland,” said Jerry Crawford.
“It is a true love affair so people just naturally gravitate towards our silks and our names. People love the Irish connection and I love it too.”
So deep does the passion run that the racing firm has just given all nine of its two-year-olds Donegal-themed names.
Horses like Donegal Magic and Donegal Mischief join a stable that was or is home to Carraig, Fahan and Fahan Mura.
“We have named 60 horses with Irish names but now we are actually putting Donegal in each name.
“We had such good luck with Mo Donegal that we thought why not continue.”
Jerry Crawford’s visits to Ireland have been fewer than he would like. But that is likely to change later this year when he retires to spend more time with wife Linda and their three children – Conor, Caitlyn and Erin Kathleen.
“It’s such a beautiful place,” he said.
“I’ve tried to figure out how to describe Rosapenna for example. It’s a whimsical place, there’s an ethereal feeling to the place. My son, borrowing a line often used in this country, said we’re not at the end of the world but we can see it from here.”
Mo Donegal, which was tipped by Rory McIlroy no less, has brought the county to national attention in America. Jerry Crawford said they regularly get people asking about it and about Donegal Racing’s Irish links.
He said the horse itself has been a “gift” and a “joy to be around”, not always the way with such animals.
“He’s a very personable horse and is mostly known for having a sense of humour. You don’t always get that with horses, we’ve had some who would take your arm off given half a chance.”
But anyone hoping to see Mo or any of the Donegal horses racing here or in the UK is likely to be disappointed. Jerry Crawford said that unfortunately the prize money is outweighed by the cost and logistics of making it happen.
“We bought a horse in Kentucky with the purpose of sending it to Ireland. But it picked up a few injuries and never made it to the races.
“I would love to race more over there but it’s a lot to ask. The purse money is limited but the costs are not. There are so many great trainers, Aidan O’Brien, Jim Bolger, amazingly good horse men and I think sometimes about doing that again.
“But I think we are going to have provide most of our tribute to the home country by naming them Donegal rather than sending them over.”