Govenor Charlie is running again, but not for Nevada’s chief executive office.
Govenor Charlie, a three-year-old race horse named for the late Nevada Gov. Charles H. Russell, might be missing a letter from his name, but he didn’t miss his chance at eligibility to race in the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
“If the next (few) weeks go well,” said owner Mike Pegram, a Northern Nevada casino executive, “he’ll be in the starting gate.”
The ways in which Govenor Charlie got a name tied to Nevada political lore and won the right to be a derby contender represent a two-pronged tale of breeding, lineage, death, life and luck. First, check the facts on derby eligibility.
Govenor Charlie, whose name is missing an “R” because of a paperwork glitch, won the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in New Mexico on March 24. The $800,000 stakes race provided Pegram a $400,000 payday and put the thoroughbred within a whisker of the 1988 record for a mile and one-eighth set by Simply Majestic, says Clark Russell. Russell is the son of the Nevada governor from 1951-59 and the man who named the horse.
The Sunland Park track-record time of 1:47.54 was second to the overall record for the distance, Russell said, which means no horse has come that close to Simple Majestic’s 1:45 for that distance in nearly a quarter-century. Jockey Martin Garcia was in the stirrups guiding Govenor Charlie for Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert.
Perhaps more important, it put Pegram’s horse in line to run in Kentucky’s premier event and gives the casino owner another chance at a derby win. Pegram’s Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby in 1998 and, by the way, was the grand sire of Govenor Charlie. The horse named for Clark Russell’s father was sired by Midnight Lute, Pegram said.
But breeding is just part of the tale. The way in which this latest Pegram contender for derby fame got his name is the other side of the tale that joins Nevada political lore with gambling lineage and luck.
Russell, who calls himself a retired gambler and formerly owned two area casinos, said his wife, Jean, made the high bid in 2011 at a Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada fundraising event and got the right to name a Pegram colt. It’s a traditional contribution casino owner Pegram has made in recent years.
The couple named that colt CJ Russell, which stood for Clark and Jean Russell.
The race horse’s luck later ran out 50 yards short of the finish line in a race. He collapsed from a heart attack, according to Pegram and Russell.
Pegram, an owner of Bodines Casino in Carson City and the Carson Valley Inn, a Minden casino and hotel, decided to give the Russells another opportunity. He called Russell in December, offering to let him name another colt. Russell said he would give it some thought and get back to Pegram.
As luck would have it, the call came at the time of the anniversary of the late Gov. Russell’s birth in 1903, which was Dec. 27.
“So about an hour later,” Russell said, “I called him back and said, here’s my proposed name: Govenor Charlie.”
It’s not like there isn’t precedent, though at a different political and governing level. Another Pegram horse was named Mayor Marv for former Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira.
“Mike’s a good friend and Marv’s a good friend,” Russell said.
Gov. Charles Russell, a Lovelock native, was a teacher and the editor of the Ely Record before he served in the state General Assembly and state Senate. He went to Congress from Nevada and served in the House for a term in the late 1940s.
He won two terms as governor in the 1950s but lost a bid for a third late in that decade. He was in the foreign service, stationed in Paraguay, until 1963 and subsequently did fund raising for his alma mater, the University of Nevada. He died in 1989.