By Dick Jerardi
Nine days after Paul Conaway, 63, tragically died from injuries suffered in a car accident, family and close friends gathered Sept. 28 at the Red Horse Motoring Club in Pottstown to tell Paul stories at a Celebration of a Life very well lived.
If you were with Paul, he insisted on you having a good time. And nowhere was that more evident than at the 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.
After an adventure straight from horse hell, Favorite Tale, a horse Conaway bred and owned, was going to run in the BC Sprint. The race had been a year in the planning, but then a quarantine at Parx where the Pennsylvania bred was stabled with trainer Lupe Preciado, forced the horse on an odyssey that included other race tracks and training centers. Then, on the way to Lexington, Ky., a van carrying Favorite Tale broke down and the horse had to spend hours in that van by the side of the road. Then, Favorite Tale drew the 14 post against the toughest field of sprinters assembled that year.
No matter. Paul, with his beloved Judi constantly by his side and his family and friends along for the ride, took everybody out to dinner the night before the big race, just anticipating a moment that would last less than 69 seconds. And he made plans for another dinner the next night regardless of how the race played out.
Judi asked me to tell that Breeders’ Cup story at the Celebration as a prelude to a wonderful video Let’s Go Racing producer Bruce Casella masterfully crafted about that day at Keeneland. Mostly, before the video and after, I felt fortunate to listen to so many stories from those who knew Paul best. He lived his life with rare joy, no matter what might be happening.
And he really loved his horses, especially Favorite Tale, the horse which started 24 times from 2014 to 2018 with nine wins, five seconds, four thirds, earnings of $1,026,300 and four stakes wins. One of the biggest wins of the horse’s career came in the 2014 Grade III Gallant Bob Stakes on Pennsylvania Derby Day, the day the great California Chrome raced at Parx. The winner’s circle picture from the Gallant Bob had a prominent place among Paul’s memorabilia at the Celebration.
Favorite Tale’s best performance was in that 2015 BC Sprint. Sent off at 23-1 against the great Runhappy and the very accomplished Private Zone, Favorite Tale was always very wide and always very much in the race.
There were moments in the stretch when it almost seemed possible that he could win it. In the end, “Favorite’’ as Paul and Judi always called him, finished third, just 1 3/4 lengths behind Runhappy and 1 length behind Private Zone. Those two were going to be difficult for any horse in the field to beat. That Favorite Tale had finished in front of the other 11 horses felt very much like winning.
And that was the reaction in the “Conaway’’ boxes overlooking the track. Paul’s face positively glowed. In the biggest race of the horse’s life, Favorite Tale had performed brilliantly.
Those moments were re-lived the rest of that afternoon and well into the night at another dinner Paul hosted. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s final race, a tour de force in the BC Classic, may have been the big national story. But, for those from Pennsylvania, there was another celebration for another horse and his people.
That we lost Paul so tragically and far too young was shocking and just so sad. Thankfully, we got to remember him, learn more about his life as a brilliant salesman and how he loved to ride motorcycles and play cornhole among so many other pursuits, hobbies and charitable endeavors. Paul Conaway absolutely was, as so many said, a larger than life figure. Anybody who knew him even a little knew that. So we will all miss him, but we won’t ever forget him.