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Kentucky Derby

Larry Connolly’s Running for the Roses The 1979 W&L alumnus has two horses running in the 2024 Kentucky Derby with his syndicate, West Paces Racing.

For the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4, Larry Connolly ’79 will be cheering on two horses, Dornoch and Society Man — of which his syndicate, West Paces Racing, owns the majority third of each — in the most exciting two minutes in sport.

Horse racing evolved as a post-retirement passion for Connolly. He spent the majority of his career working for Connolly LLC, a recovery audit accounting and consulting firm that his father founded the year of Connolly’s graduation from Washington and Lee. He became CEO in 1991, and, with his sister, Libby Connolly Alexander, as COO, they grew the company to world renown, expanding from 30 employees to more than 1,250. Connolly LLC was also named to Inc. magazine’s 5000 list as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the country. The family sold Connolly LLC to Advent International in 2012.

His equine dream started forming in the 1990s through a friend’s introduction to the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, England. Upon retirement, Connolly joined the Donegal Racing syndicate with friend Keith Mason to own his first horse, Keen Ice. At the 2015 Travers Stakes in Saratoga, New York, that colt would go on to beat American Pharoah, the Grand Slam winner who broke the 37-year Triple Crown dry spell. That’s when Connolly’s thoroughbred racing goal came into sharp focus — the kind of dream that, if the stars align, leads one to the famed twined spires of Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

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After that he purchased more horses through the Donegal and Starlight Racing syndicates, including 2020 Kentucky Derby winner Authentic and 2022 Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal.

In 2019, Connolly, Mason and a few golf buddies cofounded their own syndicate, West Paces Racing, a nod to their Cherokee Town and Country Club crew in Atlanta. As a self-described “moneyball outfit” with a dollar amount limiting both the number of horses they can buy as well as purchase prices, West Paces Racing partners with Oracle Bloodstock to identify breeding and talent overlooked by more financially competitive buyers. Their research worked, as they are the only owners with two horses in the Derby this running.

The Kentucky Derby coincides with Washington and Lee’s Alumni Weekend from May 2-5. Connolly’s class, which is celebrating their 45th reunion this year, will no doubt be raising mint juleps to cheers to one of their own during the Kentucky Derby Party on Saturday in Evans Hall.

Connolly has given back tremendously to W&L as an alum — he even named one of his horses Dubyuhnell. He served on the reunion class committee from 2013-2014, the Shepherd Poverty Advisory Board from 2010-2015 and the Entrepreneurship Advisory Board from 2013-2020. He also served on the W&L Board of Trustees from May 2015 to October 2022 and was named a trustee emeritus in October 2022. Washington and Lee’s J. Lawrence Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship and the J. Lawrence Connolly Endowment for the University’s Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability were named in Connolly’s honor in recognition of his generosity and support.

Main photo credit: Churchill Downs

In the Running

Dornoch (Good Magic — Puca, Big Brown) drew the No. 1 post with 20-1 odds. West Paces Racing named him after one of Connolly’s favorite golf courses, the Royal Dornoch, in Scotland. Trained by Danny Gargan with jockey Luis Saez, the bay colt has had a total of six starts, with three wins and two second-place finishes. He is full brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Mage. His sire, Good Magic, won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and placed second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, and his dam (mother) is by 2008 Derby winner Big Brown. In December 2023, Dornoch beat a Derby favorite, Sierra Leone, in the Remsen Stakes at the Aqueduct Racetrack.

Society Man (Good Magic — You Cheated, Colonel John) drew the No. 20 post with 50-1 odds. Also trained by Gargan with jockey Frankie Dettori up, the chestnut gelding has started five races with a first-place, second-place and third-place finish. West Paces Racing named Dornoch’s half-brother after a rib in 1968 from former President Lyndon B. Johnson to former Georgia governor Carl Sanders for not knowing how to spell tuxedo.