Just over a year ago – May 13, 2021, to be exact – it was announced that Warrior’s Club was joining other racehorses at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s new facility at Chestnut Hall in Prospect, KY. Owned by the family of Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc., Chestnut Hall would offer visitors to the Louisville area the opportunity to learn more about the horses, their racing careers, and the importance of finding a safe home for retired Thoroughbreds.
As always, the horses would be the main attraction. They would bring the visitors.
Such a responsibility was kids’ stuff for Warrior’s Club who already brought attention to himself by carrying 200 members of the inaugural Churchill Downs Racing Club (CDCRC) on a four-year, 33-race voyage. That voyage ended only after he had posed in the winners’ circles at Saratoga Race Course, Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and Oaklawn Park, raced in 14 graded stakes, including the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, became a graded-stakes winner himself, and earned more than $850,000.
He more than met the expectations of the 200 original CDCRC members who in 2016 ponied up $500 each to be part of this venture.
“I saw on Facebook that Churchill Downs had created this racing club and that D. Wayne Lukas was going to be the trainer,” said CDCR member Penne Diana. “Then, I got really interested in joining, even though the club didn’t even have a horse yet.”
Having a Hall of Fame trainer who won four Kentucky Derbys and a record 20 Breeders’ Cup races was a good start for the club. At that time, the members did not imagine that Warrior’s Club, a two-year-old Kentucky-bred, would become the horse that would take them so far for so long.
Warrior’s Club debuted at Churchill Downs on June 16, 2016 and was a distant fifth. It took five more starts before he broke his maiden four months later, winning the listed Spendthrift Stakes by two and a half lengths.
There would be four more wins during the next four years, with the crowning glory of his career a neck victory at 23-1 in the Grade 3 Commonwealth at Keeneland on April 7, 2018. His career ended with a second in the Grade 2 John Nerud at Belmont Park on July 6, 2019. Warrior’s Club finished with a record of 5-9-5 and earnings of $856,504.
“The club was not set up for profit, and Warrior’s Club’s earnings went to his care and to helping other horses and other charities,” Penne said. “[The club] was just a chance for people to own a racehorse and be part of the scene. For me, it was thrilling just to be part of iconic places like Churchill Downs and to meet people like Mr. Lukas. I remember when we all went to see Warrior’s Club work out one morning. Mr. Lukas was on his pony, talking to us through a microphone. He explained so much to us. It was just amazing. When we joined, we all thought this would be fun for a year or two, but Warrior’s Club wound up taking us everywhere over the next few years.
“I went to as many of his races as I could. I missed his win at Saratoga (2017) and I never got to see him race at Oaklawn Park, but I was able to see him race at Churchill Downs and Keeneland and Belmont Park. He raced in the Met Mile (Metropolitan Handicap) at Belmont Park in 2018. That was on Belmont Stakes Day. To be in the paddock at Belmont on that big of a day with 90,000 people at the races was unbelievable.”
It also happened to be the day that Justify won the Belmont Stakes to become racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner.
Warrior’s Club retired in 2019 at the age of five. Eventually, he found a home at the TRF’s Chestnut Hall Farm, which was perfect for Penne Diana. He was close enough to her home in Florence, KY that she could visit him often and bring him his favorite cookies.
His stay at Chestnut Hall was brief.
In late June of 2021 the TRF transferred Warrior’s Club to its Second Chances Farm at the Blackburn Correctional Institution in Lexington, KY. He was still a young horse, seven at the time, and his high spirit and energy were just a bit too much for the much older horses at Chestnut Hall. At Blackburn’s Second Chances program, Warrior’s Club would help teach students/inmates how to properly take care of horses so that they had a better chance at finding jobs after their release. Penne understood the move, but it didn’t make it easier for her. She could no longer easily visit Warrior’s Club.
But last fall, Penne was the highest bidder in the TRF’s annual online Holiday Auction and won a tour of TRF’s Second Chances Farm at Blackburn. On March 11, Penne was again able to spend some time with Warrior’s Club, whose achievements continue to impact others.
According to a press release from Churchill Downs, “Through the success of Warrior’s Club on the racetrack, the Churchill Downs Racing Club was able to purchase several other horses, all of whom have gone on to second careers and homes after racing. To date, the club has either claimed back or purchased back all but two horses, both of whom are actively racing as of this date, to ensure safe and happy retirements. On behalf of Warrior’s Club and the Churchill Downs Racing Club, donations also were made to Second Stride, New Vocations, the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, and Thoroughbred Charities of America.”