Twenty years after retiring from a Hall of Fame career in college basketball, Denny Crum was in the Keeneland sales pavilion scouting for a stakes winner with coach Dallas Stewart.
This was not a new venture for Crum, who had been a racehorse owner since the mid-1970s and had bred nearly a dozen winners in the late ’80s and ’90s. Thoroughbred racing was another outlet for the man who enjoyed competing, be it basketball, golf, fishing, horse racing or poker.
The sports world lost that competitor on May 9th. He was 86 years old.
“We were at a Fish Fry the night before the auction and he said to me, ‘I want to get another good horse,'” Stewart recalled. “I told him there was a good sale the next day. I picked it up at his house the next day and we bought it.”
Crum went to $825,000 to buy it Strava then a 2 year old son of To disaster Out of Stakes Winner Catch my drift , whom Stewart coached for WinStar Farm and Siena Farm. The stallion had won on his debut Keenland.
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“I’ve decided that at my age (84) there’s no reason to save money,” Crum told BloodHorse after purchasing Strava during the 2021 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. “So I wanted a good horse and I think we got one. It cost us a little more than I thought, but still (he) is the best horse here.”
King: Crum teams up with Stewart and buys Strava for $825,000
Strava didn’t become a stakes winner for Crum and Stewart, but it did place them in the winners’ circle Churchill Downs after a qualifying race and came close to the black competition by finishing third in the stakes Ellis Park and Churchill. Crum rode Strava with Siena Farm and WinStar Farm who were so excited that Crum bought the colt that they stayed as partners.
Stewart had put Crum in the winners’ circle on many occasions, including with his best bishop, Bad Storm . Gulch’s daughter was acquired after being bought back at the 1999 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $45,000. Crum drove her with Daryl Elser, Riley McDonald, Joseph Riccelli and Stewart as partners.
Nasty Storm won or placed in eight tiered stakes including wins in the Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap (G2), Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) and Dogwood Stakes (G3). She was also second in the Spinaway Stakes (G1) and third in the Test Stakes (G1). After earning $754,157 in the 2–5 race, Nasty Storm was sold to Frank Stronach at the November 2002 Keeneland auction for $1.075 million.
Stewart met Crum while he was an assistant trainer to D. Wayne Lukas, who owned some horses for the legendary trainer who led the University of Louisville Cardinals to six Final Fours and won national titles in 1980 and 1986. He reached the NCAA tournament 23 times in his 30 seasons. According to ESPN.com, Crum also oversaw Louisville’s move from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Metro Conference to Conference USA, and his teams won 15 regular-season conference championships across the two leagues.
“I don’t have enough time to tell you what a great man he was — world class, world champion, upright, and he was just a winner at everything around him,” Stewart said. “He was a wonderful man who loved the game.”
Crum owned 21 winners, including Class 2 Stakes winner Medium Cool, who was trained by Lukas and finished second in the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. Crum drove Medium Cool in partnership with Elser.
A native of San Fernando, California, Crum played basketball at UCLA under another coaching legend, John Wooden, and later joined the Bruins as an assistant. According to ESPN.com, UCLA won three national titles during Crum’s time there.
In 1993, Crum became the second-fastest coach to win 500 games. Nicknamed “Cool Hand Luke” for his calm demeanor, he had a 675-295 mark in Louisville before retiring in 2001, according to ESPN.com.