Alberta cowboy at the Derby

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For Reo King, the two scenes couldn't be more different.

Just before dawn in the Churchill Downs backstretch yesterday morning, the 30-year-old Albertan is standing in the stall of Kentucky Derby contender Liquidity.

With police officers and security officials standing around the barns, hardly anybody gets close to a Derby contender -- let alone work on them.

But King is performing his equine massage and stretching routine on Liquidity -- one of two Canadian-owned Derby contenders trained by Doug O'Neill.

It's a far cry from the same Reo King who chases chuckwagons around Northlands Park during the WPCA tour stop in the middle of summer.

"It's pretty cool to be at the Derby," said King. "It is pretty wild."

The best word that describes King's life is wild.

From England to Argentina to Kentucky, the former AJHL player has spent the last 15 years working on horses.

Using a Thumper -- a hand-held massaging machine -- and his own hands, the native of Bassano (a small town of 1,500 in southern Alberta) tried to make Liquidity as limber as possible for yesterday afternoon's 133rd Run for the Roses.

"He just woke up," said King while giving the light massage.

"It gets the blood going. It just tunes them up.

"If you got a (massage before working), every day is going to be a better day."

With almost no resistance from Liquidity, King ends his treatment session by extensively stretching the colt's legs and cracking his neck.

It's a rare treatment process -- and a very lucrative one.

After working for American trainer Jeff Mullins last year, King hooked up with O'Neill this winter on a salary basis that pays at least $10,000 US per month.

That deal meant King started working on Liquidity and Great Hunter -- O'Neill's other Derby starter yesterday.

Stabled side-by-side in the Churchill Downs backstretch, King almost exclusively worked on those two runners all week.

"Anything we can do to help these guys recover from the stress of training and racing, I'm open-minded to," O'Neill remarked.

"Reo is a tremendous horseman and these horses really seem to enjoy his way of stretching and getting them loosened up."

Unfortunately for King and O'Neill, the Derby didn't pan out their way yesterday.

Liquidity finished 14th at 40-1 odds. Great Hunter crossed the wire 13th as a 25-1 longshot.

But the overall results since King joined the barn are impressive.

"In the middle of January he had 43 starts and three wins," said King, remembering O'Neill's stats in California just before he joined the team.

"And we ended up winning the Santa Anita meet and the all-time record for the winter meet.

"I'm not saying it is because of me, but it's a funny thing, you know."

However, King is about to leave America's top racing circuit to come home for the Alberta chuckwagon circuit.

The lure of outriding through the summer months is just too strong to ignore.

"I want my adrenalin to flow," he remarked.

"That is what turns me on."

So, King will try to add a fourth Edmonton outriding title to his resume in July at Northlands Park, which is literally about as far away from the Churchill Downs backstretch as you can get.


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