5 brothers’ journey to the 2021 Kentucky Derby

By David J. Kim, Louisville Courier Journal

Their intentions weren’t money-driven.

Future investment or starting a thoroughbred operation wasn’t a thought at all. It was just five guys — fraternity brothers of Theta Delta Chi at Brown University who were also teammates on the football team — wanting to share a fun endeavor together.

That’s how Boat Racing, LLC got started by those five guys — Eric Armagost, Dan Giovacchini, Reiley Higgins, Patrick O’Neill and Alex Quoyeser.

The idea originated at Del Mar Fairgrounds two years ago. After Higgins and Giovacchini sat in the seats of trainer Doug O’Neill, uncle of Patrick O’Neill, and enjoyed a fun day, Higgins suggested a thought.

“Why can’t we get into horse racing?”

Two years later, Hot Rod Charlie, owned by Boat Racing, LLC, along with Roadrunner Racing and Strauss Brothers Racing, is less than a week away from running at the 147th Kentucky Derby. He won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in March and finished top 3 in the past four races.

Now, what was supposed to be a cool experience among close friends is now on the brink of being in the history books forever.

“We’re in our mid to late 20s now and played college football together. You graduate and go off into the real world and how do you get this adventure going?” Giovacchini said. “We always looked for opportunities to go on snowboarding trips or go to a ball game or attend a golf tournament. This came around as a different idea. It was a way to spend time together, compete together, go on a new adventure.”

Their journey started in 2011 when the five men, hailing from Atlanta (Armagost), Boston (Giovacchini), Orange County, California (Higgins), Honolulu (O’Neill) and Houston (Quoyeser), stepped onto the campus of Brown University.

As members of the Bears’ football team, they breathed competition every day. Often times, they went head-to-head in practices, too, particularly Higgins, a wide receiver, against O’Neill, a cornerback, and Armagost, a safety.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keep track of the times that I beat Patrick or the times that Eric got me and I got him back,” Higgins said. “There was definitely that count in my head like I beat Eric three times and he got me once this practice. I got him.”

Add to the friendly competition that they joined a fraternity, Theta Delta Chi, and lived in the same house, and the bond only grew stronger.

“We were probably abnormally close in college. Not just us five but the 30 or so guys in my class on the football team,” Higgins said. “The majority of us took similar classes, we all studied together and football’s such a huge time commitment, you spend on and off the field the amount of hours you spend, we got to be extremely close in college.”

From setting a joint bank account to establishing an LLC and countless other factors to consider, they went through a steep learning curve, with much help from O’Neill, whose family has been involved with horse racing for decades.