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The Wings' Horseman

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings defenseman Mike Commodore once was

part-owner of Valkyrie Missile (above), a thoroughbred race horse.
Most players try to relax when they return home after a morning skate. For some that means picking up their kids from school, or for the young guys without family responsibilities that could mean heading to the grocery store to stock up for the week.

For Mike Commodore, relaxation last Saturday meant watching a dozen or so Breeders’ Cup horse races on TV from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Ever since the Red Wings’ defenseman was invited to Churchill Downs to watch Big Brown claim the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby from the 20th starting gate, Commodore was hooked.

“When I got traded to Ottawa there, and we lost out to Pittsburgh, I went back to Carolina – that’s where my stuff was – packed my stuff up,” said Commodore, who’s celebrating his 32nd birthday today. “I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know anything. I was just kind of sitting there for a few days and a buddy of mine called and said, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ Want to go to the Kentucky Derby?’ I was like, ‘Sure, I might as well. I’ve got nothing else going on.’ ”

Commodore had so much fun at the Derby that horse-racing, you can say, is now in his blood.

“I bought a suit, one of those Seersucker suits, and went to the Kentucky Derby with a group through Little Red Feather Racing, who got us the tickets,” he said. “There were a couple of hockey guys: Barret Jackman was there, Ryan Johnson who was here with us at camp, was there. A couple of NFL football players were there. We had like 15 guys there and just had a blast.

“Then the company said, ‘It seems like you’re having fun, and if you’re ever interested in getting involved, just let us know.’ I really didn’t think too much of it, then I started watching a little bit more. I didn’t want to put a whole lot of money into it, I mean it’s horse racing, you know what I mean? I don’t know that much about it. But I do know that getting a good horse is like winning the lottery.”

Commodore has been part-owner of several different horses over the last 3 ½ years, and as many as a half dozen horses at one time, including a gelding named Valkyrie Missile and a filly named Killagram.

Valkyrie Missile was sold before training camp, and Killagram suffered a life-threatening injury and had to be euthanized.

“She ended up hurting herself and we had to put her down, which was awful,” Commodore said. “It was her pelvis. She had a minor surgery, and she woke up in the middle of the night. I don’t know what the hell happened. But she woke up, and moved around and broke her pelvis. It was devastating.”

While he’d love to have a horse in the Running of the Roses, Commodore said he’s in it more for the entertainment value than an investment.

“First and foremost, it’s for fun,” he said. “I don’t look at these races like I’m making money off of them. I like when my horses win, I like collecting checks. I’d like to learn more about the sport and become more knowledgeable. I have a lot to learn. I still, when I go to the track, and get the program, I’m better than I was, but there’s still a lot of stuff on that sheet that I have absolutely no clue what it means. I’d like to become more knowledgeable.”

Still, Commodore hopes that his calendar won’t permit him to attend the race in May.

“Now I’m hooked, yeah. But hopefully, I don’t get to go to another Kentucky Derby until I’m retired,” he said, “which probably means I’m playing in the playoffs.”

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