Keith Luke with Mo Donegal in his stall at Florida’s Palm Beach Downs in January. Photo courtesy of Keith Luke

The excitement is consuming Keith Luke night and day, though at times it doesn’t seem real.

“I have the experience where I get to sleep, I wake up in the morning, and we still have a horse going to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a positive type of anxiety, and it’s surprisingly exhausting,” said Luke, economic development director for the city of Augusta.

Luke and his longtime girlfriend, Barbara Furey of Falmouth, have an ownership stake in Mo Donegal, one of the betting favorites among the 20 horses in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Dave Rollins, a former mayor of Augusta, also is part of the ownership group. All three will be at Churchill Downs in Louisville for the race, scheduled for 6:57 p.m. and broadcast on NBC.

According to the betting line set by Mike Battaglia, oddsmaker for Churchill Downs, Mo Donegal’s odds to win the Kentucky Derby are 10-1. The only horses with lower odds are Zandon at 3-1, Epicenter at 7-2 and Messier at 8-1. Mo Donegal will start from the No. 1 post position, closest to the rail.

“He is a closer,” Luke said of Mo Donegal, who earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby with a win last month in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York. “He does not get out of the gate fast by design. He lets other eager horses get to the front, burn themselves out, and then he comes on strong and fast.”

Luke, Furey and Rollins are partners in Donegal Racing, a syndicate based in Iowa. Partners do not invest in a specific horse, but in a group of eight to 12 thoroughbreds that Donegal Racing buys each year. If any of those horses is successful in stakes races, the partners share in the earnings, minus expenses. Partners also receive a share of any deals for breeding rights.


“This way, if any one of those horses becomes a great horse, everyone has a piece of the horse,” Luke said.

Mo Donegal is Donegal Racing’s fourth entry in the Kentucky Derby since the syndicate was founded in 2008. Paddy O’Prado finished third at Churchill Downs in 2010, Dullahan placed third in 2012, and Keen Ice was seventh in 2015.

This marks the third time in a decade that Mainers have had an ownership stake in a Kentucky Derby entrant. Brothers George, Jamie, and Michael Kerr of Old Orchard Beach were part owners of Eliminator, who finished second at the 2016 Derby and went on to win the Preakness Stakes. Phyllis Wyeth of Tenants Harbor owned Union Rags, who placed seventh in the 2012 Derby and went on to win the Belmont Stakes.

Keith Luke and Barbara Furey hold the Remsen Stakes Cup, which Mo Donegal won at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York on Dec. 4. Photo courtesy of Keith Luke

Luke and Furey attended their first thoroughbred race in 2015, the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. They saw American Pharoah win the race shortly after taking the Triple Crown. Later that summer, they watched Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice defeat American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, New York. Raised in Boothbay, Luke took an interest in Keen Ice when he learned the horse’s dam was named Medomak, after the river in Maine, and Medomak’s dam was named Wiscasset.

Soon after, Furey was attending her high school reunion in Danville, Illinois, when the conversation turned to horse racing. A classmate of Furey’s told Luke and Furey they should meet his friend Jerry Crawford, the CEO of Donegal Racing.

The couple arranged to meet Crawford at the Breeders Cup, and they quickly hit it off. Eventually, Crawford asked Luke if he and Furey would like to join the Donegal Racing partnership group, and they accepted the offer.


“He’s one of those characters who becomes like your new best friend. Affable and easy to talk to,” Luke said.

A longtime horse racing fan, Rollins began attending races with Luke and Furey, and met Crawford through them. Rollins recalled the first time he saw Mo Donegal run.

“He was big, he was fast, and he could run all day. Nobody comes down the home stretch like Mo does,” Rollins said. “I’ve been in this 14 months, and I’m going to the Kentucky Derby. Is this real?”

Dave Rollins and jockey Joel Rosario shortly after Mo Donegal won the Wood Memorial on April 9 to clinch as spot in the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride the horse in the Derby. Photo courtesy of Keith Luke

Rollins declined to say how much he invested in Donegal Racing, but Luke estimated he and Furey have invested approximately $85,000 over four years. If the syndicate’s expenses exceed winnings in any given year, partners need to make up the cost.


“It’s significant (money) to me, maybe not significant to other people. It’s an amount of money I often equate to a country club membership. A country club membership that’s a traveling road show with the same people,” Luke said. “If he does well at the Derby, we’re poised to get all that money back and more.”


The payout to the winner of the Kentucky Derby this year is $1.86 million. Second place gets $600,000, third place earns $300,000. The total purse for the race is $3 million.

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Mo Donegal in the Derby. This year, Ortiz has 112 wins in 395 starts. Ortiz has ridden Mo Donegal more than any jockey, Luke said.

“He’s an aggressive rider, and Mo is a horse that responds very well to that,” Luke said.

Being closest to the rail at the start of the race, however, creates challenges in a field of 20 horses. The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby from the No. 1 post position was Ferdinand in 1986.

“If he gets stacked up behind horses and can’t find a pathway to the front down the home stretch, simply put, he’s in trouble,” Luke said of Mo Donegal.

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