Stuart Brown with his 3-year-old filly, Patinka. (Courtesy Stuart Brown)
Perhaps more than anything else during her 44 years, Christine Brown was passionate about horses and UK sports.
She came to the University of Kentucky to pursue one of those passions and stumbled on the other. A three-day eventing competitor and member of a national-championship Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Riding Team while in college, Brown graduated in 1991.
As she went on to a career as a registered nurse and married Dr. Stuart Brown, Christine stayed involved with horses as both an equestrian and breeder. At the same time, she developed close ties with UK Athletics as an ardent fan and supporter, particularly of the women's basketball program.
That's why, after Christine passed away following a riding accident at the Browns' home in July, Stuart wanted to pay tribute to his wife's legacy in a way that combined the two things for which she cared so deeply
The Brown home is a picturesque property near Versailles, Ky.
There, Stuart -- an equine practitioner at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute -- operated a commercial thoroughbred breeding enterprise with Christine. But every once in a while, Stuart and Christine would pick out a special horse to hold onto.
Patinka was one of those.
The filly -- now 3 years old -- was sired by Exchange Rate to mare Untarnished, but her journey was a complicated one from the very beginning.
"I had to resuscitate the foal at the delivery," Stuart said. "Many times those foals don't survive, but this foal ended up being hospitalized at my hospital."
Patinka went into a coma for three days, experiencing a reduced supply of oxygen to the brain. As is the case with many such hypoxic brain injuries, recovery was difficult. Christine -- formerly an equine neonatal ICU nurse -- was there every step of the way.
"That's what my wife would do a lot of before she went to college and became an RN," Stuart said. "She was a part of that process with this foal."
That process included re-teaching Patinka to stand, nurse and recognize her mother. Less than a month later, she had to have abdominal surgery to remove an internal abscess. By the time she was healthy, the Browns couldn't think to do anything else but keep and race Patinka for themselves.
"You have a very special bond with those particular individuals that you've put that much time and effort into," Stuart said.'She was just in'
Christine was a regular at both men's and women's basketball games, but UK Hoops held a special place in her heart.
She always enjoyed the Wildcats' fast-paced style of play, but it was the relationships she built with coaches, staff and players that turned her fandom into fervor.
"She really enjoyed watching them play because she could be so close and she felt like she was part of it," Stuart said. "She'd be mad if somebody wouldn't stand up for the fight song."
Christine also loved sharing her passion. When she didn't go with Stuart, she would often invite family and friends to attend games with her. There were, however, certain requirements attached to the invitation.
"If you were coming to the game, you were in or don't come with her," Stuart said. "If you talk too much during the game or you weren't paying enough attention to the game, you might not get asked back. She was all about being social, but you better be in for the team."
Because Christine certainly was.
"She was in," Stuart said. "She was just in. And I thought that was a legacy thing, so to speak."Picking a trainer
Once the Browns had decided they would keep ownership of Patinka, their next task was to select a trainer. Since she had always been Christine's horse, Stuart left that to his wife.
"She picked out Graham Motion as a trainer because she had listened to Graham talk about training horses and the process of bringing them along and she had looked at how patient he was," Stuart said.
Patience would be important because of Patinka's medical history and size. Now standing at between 16.2-16.3 hands, she was always a big horse. That meant she would need to be brought along slowly to allow time for development.
But even in handpicking Motion, Christine thought actually convincing him to take on Patinka was a longshot. Motion, after all, trained 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and the Browns owned just one horse at the time.
Stuart, however, knew he had relationships that could help make it happen. He had consulted over the phone with Motion on a few cases in years past and the two had mutual acquaintances. Not long after mentioning the possibility to his contacts, Motion called Stuart directly to tell him was willing to train Patinka.
When he received the call, Stuart's answer was an obvious yes, but with a caveat.
"I said, 'Well, I appreciate you calling and I'm glad to know that you would be able to take her, but that's really only part of the story,' Stuart said. " 'If you really want to train this filly, I really need you to call Christine because she's really a part of this whole thing.' "
Motion agreed and Stuart texted his wife's number to him. Later that afternoon, Motion made the call.
"I hear the door open and she comes bounding out the steps of our house and she says, 'You'll never guess who called me,' " Stuart said.Making the connection
On the day before Thanksgiving, Stuart was in Memorial Coliseum and he happened upon a familiar face.
"When I came for the Bradley game, I didn't have anybody to use my floor seats that day," Stuart said. "So I walked in and there's this lady who runs the cash register at the track kitchen at Keeneland. She brought her daughter to the game."
Stuart offered his floor tickets to the mother and daughter.
"She saw me Tuesday morning and she came running out from behind the register and gave me this hug," Stuart said. "They had this marvelous time."
It was in that moment that something clicked for Stuart.
Earlier in November, UK staff members approached him about an idea to promote UK Hoops' annual "Pack the House" game vs. Duke on Dec. 22 in Rupp Arena by giving away part ownership of a thoroughbred for a year. He had already committed to buying group tickets for others to use and was well-connected in horse-racing circles, so he was a natural candidate to help.
At first, he racked his brain trying to come up with an owner and horse that would be the right fit. Then he thought of Patinka. Those thoughts inevitably turned to Christine.
By offering 10 percent of his winnings for the 2014 calendar year, Stuart would be able to combine Christine's love of horses and of UK. He would be able to honor her by helping the women's basketball team she loved and exposing someone who likely would never have gotten the chance to experience life as a horse owner, which she so cherished.
Just like he did at that Bradley game, Stuart will give someone an experience that will never be forgotten.'Nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at the same time'
While wearing the same purple and black colors Christine wore as an equestrian, Patinka has raced five times in her career, winning once. She will rest at home in Lexington for the next 60-90 days before returning to train with Motion in Fair Hill, Md.
Patinka in the winner's circle. (Courtesy Stuart Brown)
There have been ups and downs throughout with Patinka. In many ways, that defines horse ownership.
"It's kind of nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at the same time," Brown said.
There are no guarantees in horse racing, but Stuart is optimistic the next year will be a big one for Patinka.
He remembers well the feeling of Patinka's win at Delaware Park, when she ran a long race on turf for the first time. She sprinted to the lead and held off a late charge to win the mile-and-70-yard race in 1:37.17.
"That's just an incredible feeling, to have them fulfill a destiny, so to speak, in terms of being that competitive and run that strong a race," Stuart said. "You're going to the winner's circle to get your picture taken and they're broadcasting your name over the loud PA system and your phone's blowing up from people who are back home watching the race."
That's a feeling Brown hopes to share with whoever wins the random drawing at Rupp in less than three weeks, but he's confident the winner will have an experience to remember regardless. The winner will be invited to travel to at least one of Patinka's races during the year with expenses paid, as well as visit the amiable filly at Stuart's home.
"She's very, very tractable," Stuart said. "She's got a great personality, which of course she's had a lot of developmentally, behaviorally since she was born."
That has everything to do with Christine.
"That was a big deal of my wife's: that every foal she raised had to be trusting of people," Stuart said. "Because no matter what happened to them, wherever they ended up, whether they were successful racehorses or they were just riding horses for somebody, they had to get the right foundation so they could do whatever because they'd have a good life."
Find out more about the special horse-racing experience one lucky fan will win at UK Hoops' "Pack the House" game here.