Before he stepped onto a racetrack or ran his first furlong, Adriano had owner Donald Adam's eye.
"He was absolutely, stunningly beautiful," said Adam, who received photographs of his newly-born foal from Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky. "They said, 'Here's one that's going to be very, very special.' "
Just how special remains to be seen.
Adriano, a chestnut colt by A.P. Indy, will carry the teal- and blue-colored silks of Adam's Courtlandt Farms on Saturday in the 134th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
For Adam, 73, a successful banker and philanthropist in the Tampa Bay area, it will be his second Derby horse, first as an owner.
"Winning this race is one of the most challenging events in sports," Adam said. "To be one of 20 horses in the Derby is very special in itself, and the opportunity to be (the) one out of 20 (to win) would be an incredible feat."
Adriano qualified by winning the Grade II $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on March 22 at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. His victory in the 1 1/8-mile race on Polytrack raised his graded earnings to $310,000, 11th highest in the field. But the 3-year-old trainee of Graham Motion has doubters who question his ability on dirt, and his demeanor.
In his only start on dirt in the Grade II $350,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 24 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Adriano suffered his worst loss, finishing ninth, 17 lengths behind Cool Coal Man in the 12-horse field. His other six starts — on turf and Polytrack — have produced three wins and a second.
Adam, a native of Bryan, Texas, is solidly behind Adriano, who has gone at least 11/16 miles in every outing.
"The reason he ran on the grass early on was (because) we never felt he could run typically with the younger 2-year-olds that start in the sprints," Adam said. "He's a long-striding colt that should be able to run most all day. I don't think there's ever been a strong indication that he could not run on the dirt, because if you look at his breeding, it would indicate that he should be able to handle it just fine.
"When he ran so poorly at Gulfstream, he became very fractious before the race where they saddle the horses, reared up and went against a concrete wall. I thought he was going to injure Graham, who was trying to saddle him. Finally, they had to take him outside, and he got so washed out before the race, there was no way he was going to perform well."
Edgar Prado, who won the 2006 Derby with Barbaro, chose to ride Adriano from several contenders.
"Adriano has got to be a little more forwardly positioned than a lot of people think he might be — more midfield and positioned going around the second turn to begin his move," Adam said.
Adriano, 30-1 on the early line, drew the No. 15 post Wednesday.
"We wanted (a post) between 4 and 7, but we've got to be satisfied with what we drew,'' Adam said.
Adam's only previous Derby-related horse came as a breeder in 2000, when Impeachment ran third for owner Dogwood Stable. Adam has broodmares at Lane's End Farm and brings the foals to Courtlandt Farms, a 360-acre operation south of Ocala where they are broken and trained before being sent to designated trainers at age 2 to begin their racing careers.
Adriano's dam, Gold Canyon, also is owned by Adam.
"We don't sell anything that we race now," Adam said. "My oldest granddaughter (Madison Malechek) said one day, 'Papa, you've got this all wrong. You're keeping the bad ones and selling the good ones.' I said, 'What we need to do is not sell any.' "
Malechek made the comment after Adam sold Smoke Glacken, a 1997 Eclipse Award champion sprinter. One of Adam's best horses was Film Maker, a 2003 Grade I winner who had two seconds and a third in three Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf events from 2004-06.
Adam is chairman and chief executive officer of Tampa-based American Momentum Bank. In 2007, he donated $20.4-million to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa toward research on melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Adam is a cancer survivor.
"I've been blessed probably more than any human deserves to be blessed and I'm not sure why — maybe I've lived my life pretty good," Adam said. "But I've enjoyed a lot of successes in a whole myriad of business endeavors over the years in all industries.
"Quite frankly, my thoroughbred operation hasn't really been one of my more successful endeavors. But I do believe at this point in time, the tide has turned and our program is on a dramatic upswing. I think we probably have the greatest group of horses that we've ever had.
"I would also represent that we may be back next year, because we've got some 2-year-olds that we think are of great, great quality. If we can sustain our program, it will be truly one of the great highlights of my life."