LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Scarce few souls will enter Churchill Downs to witness the 146th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but among the scarce will be Bob Weihe. He’s the lifelong Louisvillian who has attended 73 straight Derby races but had reckoned his streak doomed as of Aug. 21, when Churchill Downs discontinued its hope of having limited fans at the Derby after a summertime uptick in local and regional cases of the novel coronavirus.

As a bonus, Weihe’s 74th consecutive Derby will occur as a horse owner because he just became one of those with a stake in Derby entry Max Player. Max Player’s principal owner, George Hall, instituted a program in the summer of 2019 through the company he co-founded, SportBLX, whereby fans and would-be fans can buy shares of horses at modest prices.

“The hope,” Hall said by phone Thursday night, “was to try to give people an appreciation, at a lower-dollar price, for the excitement of being part of a racehorse at this level, at the Kentucky Derby.”

The owners numbered more than 650 as of Friday midday and included Weihe after Hall had learned of his plight. “I just tried putting myself in his place,” said Hall, whose best memories of a Long Island childhood include going with his brother and their grandfather to Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga, and who, with his wife, Lori, owned 2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice.

On Wednesday, Weihe’s son, Mark, received a call from a Louisville friend, Rick King, who said his longtime pal from college days, Hall, wished to speak to the Weihes. Hall then told Mark Weihe he might be able to arrange something. Bob Weihe, 82, has attended every Derby since 1947, beginning at age 9 when his mother took him along to see Jet Pilot’s win, a streak that seemed safe earlier this year when he and his wife, Barbara, found tickets for Churchill Downs’ limited-capacity plan.

Then came the downer, but now came hope. “I was hopeful at this point,” Mark Weihe said in a text message, “and went to tell Dad when I got off the phone. Dad was very emotional and got tears but, I think, was still a little leery.”

The next morning, Hall offered a ticket, part of his allotment of 16 as the owner of an entry. While Hall said he would have offered the ticket regardless, he also informed Mark Weihe of the ownership possibility. “He told me we could buy shares of the horse if we would like at $103 a share,” Mark Weihe wrote. “I went to the site and purchased a few shares, then went to tell Dad. He again got tears and was very emotional, as was Mom (Barbara, Bob’s wife of 62 years, who herself has been to the Derby 62 times). He was so excited and just can’t believe he gets to go now.”

“I’m very enthused about meeting him,” Hall said, soon adding, “Now he has an actual interest in the horse, so if we do well it will be even better for him.”

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