Patrick O’Leary was off Saturday, yet that didn’t stop the 30-year UPS employee from dressing for the office.
Clad in a brown shirt, pants and hat, O’Leary put $5 on Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown before Saturday’s Preakness. O’Leary wasn’t trying to make any money — not at 1-5 odds — but it was his own way of supporting the 3-year-old colt that could be the shrewdest marketing move the shipping company has ever made.
“Usually the horses I bet on have bibs on them. They’re like big German shepherds,” O’Leary said with a laugh. “I don’t know a lot about horses, but I know this one’s a winner and he’s got two down and one to go.”
Churchill Downs held an employee appreciation day for UPS workers in conjunction with the Preakness, and several hundred of the shipping company’s 20,000 local employees came out and partied while Big Brown dominated the field to take the second race in the Triple Crown.
Several of O’Leary’s co-workers joined him in wearing the typical company garb, and a tricked out delivery truck — complete with flames across the hood — stood near the paddock.
The horse has become a mascot of sorts in the Louisville office. Talk around the water cooler now surrounds trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.’s prodigy, even among employees who usually don’t know a furlong from a fur coat.
“Everybody’s been walking around with their buttons on, and their T-shirts on,” O’Leary said. “There are posters up and everybody is talking about him.”
UPS employee Elizabeth Wearren said some of the company’s local offices are named after Triple Crown winners. She fully expects the company to add the “Big Brown Office” sometime after he races the Belmont Stakes next month.
“He’s just a powerful horse, what a great story,” she said.
UPS employees weren’t the only ones roaring as Big Brown drew clear of the field in the Preakness. Linda Zeller, with a Big Brown picture taped to her back, leaned on the rail surrounding the paddock while watching the race on the Jumbotron then jumped in the air when he crossed the finish line.
“He’s going to win it all,” Zeller said. “He’s like Secretariat. Nobody is going to beat him.”
Zeller fell for Big Brown while walking the backside at Churchill Downs the week before the Derby.
“He’s just awesome,” she said. “He was looking around like he knew he was the real deal.”
Following the furor surrounding the death of filly Eight Belles — who was euthanized after breaking both of her front ankles moments after finishing second in the Derby — Zeller said she hopes horse racing’s critics will back off.
“The sport needs this, it needs a Triple Crown,” she said. “What happened with Eight Belles was sad, but it happens. This (watching Big Brown) is what gets people hooked. You see what great athletes they are. I hope he does it.”