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Excitement is mounting as Derby 150 approaches, with a notable standout emerging—Sierra Leone, owned by Brook Smith, Peter Brant, Michael Tabor, Michael Smith, and Derrick Westerberg. As a member of the Purses for a Purpose initiative, Sierra Leone, one of the likely favorites for Kentucky Derby 150, stands to help the backstretch community win big.

Brook Smith,  owner of Rocket Ship Racing, LLC, is a Louisville resident and long-time supporter of the Backside Learning Center’s (BLC) mission: to provide support and resources in a safe and welcoming environment for the diverse community of racetrack workers and their families. In addition, he helped spearhead Purses for a Purpose, a program that builds on the BLC’s efforts to connect horse owners more closely with efforts to support the backside community.

The BLC is ecstatic to have Sierra Leone represent  the Purses for a Purpose team in this year’s Kentucky Derby.. Not only is Sierra Leone slated to compete, but according to Horse Racing Nation, he is currently ranked #1 in the “Kentucky Derby Contenders” list.

“We’re so fortunate to have Brook Smith advocating for he BLC’s mission as we work directly with the backbone of the horseracing industry,” said Executive Director Sherry Stanley. “Now that the BLC has a horse in the Derby, we hope this gives more exposure to the community making it all happen.”

In addition to the standard percentage of purse earnings Brook automatically donates via “Purses for a Purpose”, should Sierra Leone win the Kentucky Derby, Smith has promised an additional $100,000 to the BLC.  This extraordinary contribution will directly benefit BLC programming, which provides vital resources and support to the racetrack workers and their families.

For Smith, racehorse ownership carries with it an obligation to support the people on the Backstretch who make it all happen.  Giving back through Purses for a Purpose makes that easy.

“I have a challenge,” said Smith. “If we can get 150 owners, and 150 horses for that matter, and they pledge to donate 1% of purse winnings with these 150 horses, that moves a bigger needle than people realize. And it means a lot, the thought that the owners think about the backside, and those who support it.”

The BLC extends its heartfelt appreciation to Brook Smith, his connections, and all supporters of Purses for a Purpose. This initiative exemplifies the power of collective action and philanthropy in creating a brighter future for the backside community.

For more information about the BLC and Purses for a Purpose, please visit

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