New York Great Lakes Town (No, Not Sacketts Harbor) Has Rooting Interest in the Florida Derby

The south shores of Lake Erie are far from the Aegean Sea, but there’s been a war brewing between city-states here mildly reminiscent of that between Athens and Sparta.

The cities in question are Fredonia, population 10,706, and Dunkirk, the bigger city with 13,131 inhabitants, two hamlets nestled between Erie, Pa., and Buffalo, N.Y..

Fredonia, whose Hillbillies have been beating the Dunkirk Marauders with regularity in high-school football and basketball lately, is home to a branch of the State University of New York. It also had a horse named “Fredonia,” a foal of 1982 who never made the races.

Dunkirk, whose Marauders have been taking it on the chin recently, has an Off-Track Betting parlor and, some residents claim, a $3.6 million namesake-yearling who has grown up to be the Florida Derby favorite.

The big story in the Dunkirk Observer the other day detailed the deployment of Dunkirk resident Robert Gee to help the citizens of Fargo, N.D., 910 miles to the west, cope with the flooding waters of the Red River.

The big story in the Observer Saturday will likely center on the Blackberry Florida Derby, 1,141 miles, and a couple of climate zones, away.

And when the crowd turns out at the OTB on 303 Main St., you can be sure the locals will be betting and pulling for the promising big gray owned in partnership by Susan Magnier, the daughter of famed Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien, and a pair of millionaire Brits who made their fortunes in bookmaking, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.

Ownership may never have heard of Dunkirk, N.Y., but its citizens have taken in their horse as one of their own.

“He’s big news up here,” said Danny McGill, unofficial town spokesperson who called the Gulfstream Park media office Thursday, looking for updates on the big horse’s progress toward the big race.

“I looked in the phone book and we don’t have any Pletchers, Tabors or Magniers in town, but we do have a Gomez. I don’t think there’s any relation to that family and (jockey) Garrett Gomez, though.”

Mr. McGill sees an opportunity for the town to step into the limelight, similar to Sacketts Harbor, another Great Lakes New York town, situated 191 miles to the northwest on the shores of Lake Ontario. Sacketts Harbor is the hometown of the majority of partners in the Sackatoga syndicate, which raced Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

“I’m just a local citizen tossing a plug for Dunkirk, N.Y.,” he said. “We’re the sister city of Dunkirk, France (a town famous for the evacuation of British troops during World War II, and the likely source of inspiration for naming the expensive colt). The two cities look a lot alike in aerial photographs and we have much in common.”

Mr. McGill pointed out that his Dunkirk sent food and clothing to war-ravaged Dunkirk in the late ‘40s.

“Even the Mayor of Dunkirk, France, came to our city to thank people personally for what we had done.”

Mr. McGill, a racing fan, could also have pointed out that Friends Lake, the name of the 2004 Florida Derby winner, was named after a lake near Chestertown, another small upstate New York town almost 300 miles away.