Janice and Robert McNair of Stonerside Stable announced today that any earnings by their homebred Cowboy Cal in the Kentucky Derby on May 3 will be donated to the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, in memory of John Long.
It was John Long who gave the nickname "Cowboy Cal" to the McNairs' son Cal 34 years ago. John, the son of David and Mellie Long, was just three years old at the time and fighting cancer. Reverend and Mrs. Long had brought their son to Houston when their hometown doctor in Columbia, S.C. told them M. D. Anderson was the best place for John's treatment.
Friends since college, the Longs stayed with the McNairs during their time in Houston. The McNair family was frequent visitors to John's hospital room, and John took a liking to Cal, who was 13 at the time. He started calling him "Cowboy Cal" because Cal always wore cowboy boots and hats, and enjoyed riding horses.
John lost his battle with cancer two months shy of his fourth birthday. The McNairs never have forgotten him, or the nickname he gave to Cal.
"Years later," Bob McNair said, " when we started breeding and racing Thoroughbreds, that name came back to us as something we'd like to use for one of our special horses. Now, having been blessed with a horse of Cowboy Cal's talent, we thought it would be appropriate to donate his earnings to the fight against cancer, and specifically to a fund set up in John's memory."
Reverend Long said his family is deeply touched by the McNairs' gesture.
"Cal and our John were buddies," Rev. Long said. "Cal would check in on John in the hospital, and always got him to laugh. When Bob called me and told me about the horse, and what they are doing, we were so touched."
Reverend and Mrs. Long will be the McNairs' guests at the Derby this year.
It will be an exciting weekend for the McNairs. They are in the unique position this year of having three homebreds run in three different classics. On Friday, Country Star will face the top fillies of her generation in the Kentucky Oaks. A few hours later, Raven's Pass will go in England's first classic race of the year, the Two Thousand Guineas, followed by Cowboy Cal's Derby appearance Saturday afternoon.
"It is a real boost to our breeding program just to have runners in these three historic races," said John Adger, who serves as racing and bloodstock manager for the McNairs. "There is so much tradition in each of these races. We'll be facing the best horses of this generation."
Three-year old Cowboy Cal qualified for the Derby by finishing second at the Blue Grass stakes in mid April. The dark bay colt is the son of Giant's Causeway, and his pedigree and style bode well for the Run for the Roses.
"I think that this is one of our better chances because the Derby requires a running style that is well suited for Cowboy Cal," Bob McNair said. "It's not so much for speed horses, it's more for horses that we call stalkers that will stay three or four horses off the length and then at the top of the stretch they are ready to make their move.
"This young colt is outstanding. He has the right kind of bloodline and has the kind of pedigree that should allow him to get the mile and a quarter in the Derby."
NOTE:** About M. D. Anderson: The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks as one of the world's most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. M. D. Anderson is one of only 39 Comprehensive Cancer Centers designated by the National Cancer Institute. For five of the past eight years, M. D. Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in "America's Best Hospitals," a survey published annually in U.S. News and World Report.