By Tom Pedulla — When Bill served as an NFL head coach during a 19-year career that brought two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he craved competition.
He was relentless in driving himself and others to greater heights. He constantly needled players, pushing them to find untapped potential. He demanded so much of himself that reporters who covered his teams on a regular basis could see the immense toll the long season took. Fatigue, caused by late-night film study and early-morning game-planning, was written on his face.
Parcells is 78 now, driven to reach another Super Bowl of sorts. His Three Technique can take a major step toward the May 2 Kentucky Derby with a strong performance for trainer Jeremiah Englehart in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (Grade 2) on Saturday at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
“We both know what we’re trying to do. We just hope we can go forward,” Parcells said. “I don’t know exactly what to expect.”
Three Technique was purchased by Parcells for $180,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky Select Yearling Sale. He shows every sign of being a legitimate Derby prospect. He launched his 3-year-old campaign by running second to front-running, mud-loving Gold Street in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 24 at rain-drenched Oaklawn Park.
The son of turf standout Mr Speaker has trained forwardly since then, including a dazzling half-mile work in 46 seconds flat on Feb. 29 at Oaklawn, swiftest of 119 horses drilling the same distance that morning. With Englehart eager to leave plenty in the tank, Three Technique covered four furlongs in 48.80 seconds at Oaklawn this past Saturday.
“He’s doing everything right leading into the race,” said Englehart. “I’m pretty happy with where he is.”
Three Technique is named for an alignment in which a defensive lineman positions himself outside the shoulder of an offensive guard. He owns two wins and has never been worse than second in five starts in banking $154,750 for Parcells’ August Dawn Farm.
When Parcells was asked if having a horse in the Derby would compare to the adrenaline rush of a Super Bowl, he replied, “I think if I am lucky enough to have a horse in there, I would feel pretty similar to what I felt (in the Super Bowl). Yes, I’m pretty sure I would. I get very excited when my horses have a big race. That would be the ultimate.”
Parcells has long been interested in horse racing. He lives in Florida during the winter but makes sure to spend each summer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., so he can regularly attend races at Saratoga Race Course’s prestigious meet.
He gradually increased his involvement as an owner some time after he coached his last game, for the Dallas Cowboys, in 2006. According to Equibase, his August Dawn Farm has won 47 of 261 starts since its inception in 2011 with 35 runner-up finishes and 30 third-place results for earnings of $3,153,702.
“I like action. I had it all my life in football,” Parcells said. “This gives me something to think about in the morning. I’m always interested in what they’re doing and when the next race is.”
Although Parcells always wanted NFL owners to give him ample breathing room during his time with the Giants, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and Dallas, he is very involved as a Thoroughbred owner.
“For me, there is no surprise why he was such a successful head coach,” Englehart said. “We talk just about every day. Sometimes I’ve got good news. Sometimes I’ve got bad news. He processes all of the information well and makes decisions from there. Usually, the decisions he makes are pretty spot on.”
Parcells typically has approximately 10 horses in training at a given time with Englehart. He regularly draws on his football days in naming horses. Tuggle, another good 3-year-old in the barn, is named for Jessie Tuggle, a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker. Bavaro, an equine salute to rugged Giants tight end Mark Bavaro, was a capable New York-bred claimed away from Parcells some time ago.
There are times when Englehart almost finds it hard to believe that Parcells is a client. “I’m a Giants fan,” he said, “so he was pretty much my childhood idol.”
They are working together for the third year after Parcells decided to change trainers. Neither ever loses sight of the urgency to get results.
“He’s on top of me to make sure I’m on top of it,” Englehart said.
When it comes to buying horses, the trainer occasionally finds it necessary to remind Parcells of one of his famous proclamations: “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
Said Englehart: “I’ve used that a few times on him in buying horses. He kind of chuckled at it a little bit and started letting me buy more and more horses.”
Parcells and Englehart were in agreement when Three Technique was purchased. If the colt should win the 1 1/16-mile Rebel – he will have talented Luis Saez aboard – he would be virtually guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. The Rebel awards Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
Owner and trainer are cautiously optimistic. “He’s excited,” Englehart said, “but there is still a lot of ballgame left.”
Tom Pedulla, for Thoroughbred News Service, an award-winning freelance turf and sportswriter. is an HRI Contributor