Merv Griffin: Entertainer/Entrepenuer

[image url=""]Merv Griffin[/image]

Entertainer/entrepreneur Merv Griffin has been a lifelong fan of Thoroughbred racing. As a child he saw Seabiscuit run twice, and over the past decades he has served on the Boards of Hollywood Park and Thoroughbred Owners of California. Working with trainer Doug O’Neill, he has been in the Winner’s Circle many times, but none so satisfying as with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Stevie Wonderboy at Belmont in 2005. Favored to break the “Juvenile Jinx” that has plagued Breeders’ Cup Juveniles at the Kentucky Derby, the Eclipse Award winner missed the “Run for the Roses” when he sustained a hairline fracture.  (He is expected to race again this Summer.)  Cobalt Blue, winner of the San Felipe (gr.II), is still in line to represent the Merv Griffin Stable on May 5th at Churchill Downs.

A household name to several generations who watched The Merv Griffin Show, the television icon hosted 5500 shows and interviewed more than 25,000 extraordinary guests during 23 years of high ratings. Among them were four United State Presidents and numerous new artists whom he introduced to the public including George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Whitney Houston, and Jerry Seinfeld. (Seinfeld later paid his respects with the iconic show in which Kramer finds the set of The Merv Griffin Show).

Griffin also created Jeopardy! (1964) and Wheel of Fortune (1975), the two most successful game shows in television syndication history, and wrote their distinctive themes. Over the years, Merv earned 17 Emmys and 32 nominations. He also has earned approximately $70 million from the 30-second Jeopardy “Think Music,”which has become an integral part of popular culture.

A native of San Mateo, California, Merv Griffin made his first impact as a singer with Freddy Martin and His Orchestra and with hit records like I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts (3 million copies sold), Wilhelmina andNever Been Kissed. 

While he gave up a Warner Bros. film contract to pursue a career as a television host, he occasionally has appeared in some memorable cameos such as the “elevator killer” in Steve Martin’s ‘80s film romp, The Man With Two Brains,

In addition to his Thoroughbred racing stable and his long-time ownership of TeleView Racing Patrol, Merv Griffin is the hands-on force behind the Griffin Group of Companies.  They include Merv Griffin Entertainment which is currently producing his new syndicated game show, Let’s Do Crosswords,  and a second season of the Lifetime reality show, Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead.  His real estate interests include a 400-home equestrian community, the Griffin Ranch, in La Quinta, California, as well as a high-end residential real-estate brokerage. Still one of the leaders in finding young talent (think Ryan Seacrest), his latest is country singer Jennifer Wayne who is recording her debut album in Nashville now. 

Ventura, CA:
How about a "Kentucky Derby" week of Wheel of Fortune? For example--Baffert, Lukas and Mandella for the trainers--Gomez, Migliore and Albarado for the jockeys--Irwin, Porter, and Knowlton for the owners. You're the entertainment guru, our sport could use the exposure!!

That’s a very exciting idea and it would be great, however, I sold the show 20 years ago in 1986 and wouldn’t even know who to call now.

Lexington, Kentucky:
Mr. Griffin, I have been a fan of yours for many years. My question is, how much involvement do you have with your horses, or does your trainer make most of the decisions as to where they race, etc.? I saw your beautiful Cobalt Blue this weekend at Keeneland. He is a charmer!

I hope he didn’t tell you any secrets!  I have full involvement with my trainer Doug O’Neill and my staff and consult with Doug on every decision.  

Lynchburg, VA:
First of all, I've always been a huge fan! Sure miss your talk show from years was the best! I wish you luck with Cobalt Blue, but top pedigree experts say he just doesn't have the breeding or dosage to go the Derby distance. Your thoughts on this and how does he compare with your Stevie Wonderboy, who unfortunately missed the Derby trail with an injury last year?

You know top pedigree experts, they all lie.  Of course he has the breeding to go the Derby distance.  In fact, he wants to run for 4 miles!  He and Stevie are both incredible horses.

New York, NY:
Has Dennis O'Neill bought any other horses for you besides Stevie Wonderboy and Cobalt Blue?

Yes, Dennis bought me two more horses…that reminds me, I have to pay him back.  One is a Holy Bullcolt and the other is a Point Given colt.  You’ll be hearing about them very soon.

Highlands Ranch, CO:
Mr. Griffin: Your fame and interest in Thoroughbreds helps to promote the game. How do you think Thoroughbred racing could become more popular in the U.S. -- to increase the fan base? Thanks, Trish

Gaming in America has become so fast with casinos and such that most people feel Thoroughbred racing is too slow.  They are missing the beauty of the horses.  My entertainment company will be making a major announcement very soon regarding a new horse racing game for television that will certainly help increase the fan base.

Atlantic Beach, Fl:
Hello Mr.Griffin, I have been a huge racing fan since the first time I went to a track at age 5. My biggest disappointment with modern day racing is the extremely brief careers of potentially great horses to retirement to the lucrative breeding shed i.e BernardiniAfleet AlexSmarty Jones, etc, etc, etc. I believe great horses bring out the fans. As an owner where do you stand on this issue?

I totally agree with you.  I used to go to the track when I was 5 with my father, and you’re absolutely right, great horses do bring out the fans, but we have to understand that racing has undergone big changes since the early days.  The breeding aspect has become an enormous part of the game.  Plus you’ve got to admit, their afterlife is really wonderful.

Stevens, Pa:
You add so much class/fun to the sport, do you pick the names of your horses or who helps?

I absolutely do name my horses, and that’s part of the game and the fun.  I actually become Trevor Denman and call my new names as they come down the final stretch.

La Costa, CA:
Mr. Griffin you have had many successes in life...Stevie Wonderboy was a type of horse who captured the imagination of many, I am wondering where his Breeders' Cup win rates in the highlights of your life.

Stevie’s Breeders’ Cup win certainly is one of the most exciting moments of my life, and there ain’t nothing like appearing in the winner’s circle!

Bellefontaine, Ohio:
You always appear to get such a kick out of your horses. It is fun to watch. What was your most memorable moment as a horse owner?

It would have to have been winning the Juvenile at the Breeders’ Cup.

Wilton, New York:
Since you created the game show Jeopardy, I'll give you the answer, and you provide the question: MERV GRIFFIN'S FAVORITE NAME FOR A THOROUGHBRED RACE HORSE.

Who is Cobalt Blue?

Boise, Idaho:
In a match race... who would win? Stevie Wonderboy or Cobalt Blue?

That is a very intriguing question.  I think I would like to answer AFTER the Kentucky Derby.

Paris, KY:
Having so many interests, outside the horse industry, you have been quoted as saying that your horses, are your release, your get away. If that is the case, how involved are you on the day to day responsibilities, like following up with trainers, vets, fixed costs, insurance costs, to name a few.

My involvement is every day.  Everything you mentioned requires writing a check, and those checks are in front of me every day. But in truth, our conferences with my trainer Doug O’Neill are a couple of times per week.

Alameda, Ca:
What do you think of the following ideas for Thoroughbred racing: Standardizing a "length" measurement; providing finish times for all runners; and a head-on stretch camera mounted high enough for a high overhead-type video?

Good Heavens!  Which track are you with?  I think you just gave me a headache.

San Francisco, CA:
Dear Merv: I spotted you once in San Francisco on Post Street looking as dapper as I imagine you'll look in the winner's circle on Derby Day! Good luck to you and Cobalt Blue. Deborah

Everyone is always mixing me up with Brad Pitt but thanks for the good luck wishes.

Albany, New York:
Hi Merv, Thanks for taking our questions. As one owner to another, how do you measure your stable's accomplishments versus your expectations and what's your advice for other owners to be able to experience the level of success that you have had? Best wishes for all your races.

Constantly consult with your trainer on every aspect of racing.  If the trainer doesn’t return your calls or even tell you when your horse is running, get a new trainer.

Okolona, AR:
What up Merv? I got your horse picked to win the Run for the Roses. What is the best restaurant in Louisville to celebrate at after the Derby?

Damn, now you’ve made me hungry.  Truth is, I don’t know the best restaurant, because I’ve never celebrated after the Derby.  I’ll let you know on May 5th.

Portland, Oregon:
How did Cobalt Blue get his name?

First of all, I love that color and have it in neckties and shirts and for years it has been my racing color.  My silks are cobalt blue and white.

Willoughby, Ohio:
Have you ever used hypothetical mating to acquire a foal for your horse ranch?

Yes, and I paid with hypothetical dollars.

Lexington, KY:
Hey, Merv love your enthusiasm. Merv, you should have some of the jockeys on the wheel and donate money to the jockeys fund.

I agree that the jockeys would be wonderful on Wheel, but as I said previously, I sold the show in 1986, and I can’t even get on it now.

Davis, CA:
What a great honor it is to ask you a question, Mr. Griffin. I notice that you have had success with colts sired by two young sons of A.P. Indy (Stevie Wonderboy by Stephen Got Even and Cobalt Blue byAptitude). Is that just a coincidence, or do you intentionally try to target a certain sire (or dam) line with your purchases? Also, I am most interested to know if you purchase exclusively at public auction? Many thanks in advance.

You are absolutely right, but that was not intentional, more the luck of the Irish!  I don’t purchase exclusively at auctions.  I also purchase at many private sales.

Elizabethtown, KY:
Hi, what's up? How are you doing? How is Stevie Wonderboy? When is his next race going to be? thanks Johnnie Sanders

Even though Stevie’s injury was not life threatening or career ending, we’ve been working him slowly just to make sure every aspect of his injury is completely gone.  I believe he might run in May.

Sandersville, Ga:
Hello Mr. Griffin, As a child I watched your show all the time. Growing up in Georgia I did not get to see much of racing. But you would have Willie Shoemaker as a guest and cowboy Larry Mahan-and who could forget Charo! If you won the Kentucky Derby-where would it stand among all your accomplishments?

Charo would have made a great jockey.  Willie Shoemaker was a great rider and friend and rode a number of times for my stable.  I don’t know if I consider winning the Derby my greatest accomplishment, after all, it is the horse that actually runs, but it sure would be very exciting.

West Hollywood, CA:
Jockeys are some of the best athletes in the world--why haven't they been marketed better in the mainstream media?

When I was on the Board of Hollywood Park, I did use the jockeys in promotional commercials.  Unless you do that, it is very difficult to market them because of their helmets and glasses you never really get to see what they look like. They are bright and funny individuals and definitely should be marketed.  They are superstar athletes.  

Little Rock, AR:
Merv, First off congrats on achieving a dream. Cobalt Blue is a great looking horse who has yet to find his stride. With some speed in the race do you think he will handle the dirt in his face after his performance in the Illinois Derby? I personally throw that race out and will be pulling for him to win it for you, Doug, and all the connections. God speed Cobalt Blue!!!

Thanks for your congratulations.  We're with you and personally have thrown out the Illinois Derby as well.  Cobalt won the San Felipe on the same surface as Churchill Downs, so we think he'll make quite a showing. 

Atlanta, Ga:
I always enjoyed you so much as a television personality and talk show host. You always seemed to have the most interesting guests and bring out the very best in people. Over the years, I'm sure you have become aware of many of the characters and personalities involved in horse racing. Who were some that stand out in your mind - from jockeys, to trainers, to owners? Thank you so much for your time today and I wish you the very best.

Thanks for your comments.  Now I'm trying to bring out the best in horses and you're right, I have known many of the best personalities in horse racing.  Willie Shoemaker was a great friend, and I produced his night of racing birthday special at Hollywood Park where 43,000 people showed up.  Charlie Whittingham certainly stands out as one of the greatest trainers, and as a youngster, I remember Mr. Charles Howard, the Buick dealer in Burlingame who, as you know, gave us Seabiscuit.

Estero, Florida:
Hi Merv, I remember after Stevie Wonderboy won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile you were talking about a possible match race against the Derby winner. How refreshing to know there is still a sportsman like you around who realizes that this game should be more about having fun and not always looking at the dollar signs. I'm sorry the match race never happened, but as a fan I appreciate the showmanship. We need more Merv Griffins in the racing game.

The match race didn't happen because of Barbaro's passing, but wasn't he some great horse?  And so is Stevie.

Hawthorne , N.J.:
Good afternoon Merv, this sport needs you desperately as its ambassador. You are the greatest thing in racing. If you could do anything you want in racing what would you change to attract more fans the track?

Thank you for your comments.  I think a meeting with such racetrack managers as the wonderful Joe Harper who has one of the best meets in America would be of great help.

Tustin, CA:
Mr. Griffin, my Mom was a HUGE fan of your talk show back in the day - I remember watching it as a young boy. My question is - with all of your successes in life, where would a blanket of roses being draped over your horse on the first Saturday in May rank on your "all-time" list?

Right at the top of my list.  However, it would be even better if they draped the roses over me.

Nebo, KY:
Mr. Griffin, Do you think owners and trainers push 2-year-olds too much, going for the big races?

It's all in the training.  The 2-year-olds, as big and powerful as they are, still need to be treated delicately.

O'Fallon, IL:
I've read that you saw Seabiscuit race twice.  We'd love to hear your memories of that wonderful horse.

I saw Seabiscuit run race twice at Bay Meadows and even though I was a little kid, I still recall the thrill and excitement of seeing that great horse run.

Chandler, Arizona:
Merv, Hope you win with Cobalt Blue and really promote the sport. Nothing more fun than a day at the track. Please use your celebrity status to promote a day at the track and horse ownership. Do you keep any Thoroughbreds at your property outside of Wickenburg, AZ... Do you ever run any horses at Turf Paradise?

Thank you.  Me, too.  I absolutely agree there is nothing like a day at the track.  You can sit at a table and enjoy lunch, handicap the races, and if you're lucky, take home a little money.  I have run at Turf Paradise, but also have been there as a customer many times.  I keep my Thoroughbreds at my ranch in La Quinta, California.

Woodland, California:
Mr. Griffin, It is a great honor! I have been very impressed with the financial sensibility of your bloodstock purchases. You seem to have so much success buying in the 100-200K range, whereas many of the other "high end" California owners often pay much more with less results. My question regards why most high end California owners and trainers do not support the California bred yearling sales, despite the fact that Cal Breds are usually competitive against the best European and Kentucky sired horses (e.g. Lava Man and recent San Simeon (G3) winner Bonfante). Is it simply a matter of the "prestige" of the Kentucky pedigrees? Your thoughts, please, and many thanks for your time.

There's something about Kentucky bluegrass that seems to have an enormous effect on the development of a horse, but Cal-Breds are really coming up now because of California incentives.  We really have lots of great stallions.

Las Vegas, NV:
Hello Mr. Griffin, huge fan of you and all your horses and want to thank you for being part of this great sport we all love! How does winning a big race with a great horse (Stevie Wonderboy) compare to the most exciting moment you've ever had in the entertainment industry?

Nothing can beat winning a big race with a horse like Stevie Wonderboy. I've received a number of awards in my career but none can compare with 50,000 people screaming for your horse, and even though he did all the work, I got the Cup.

Dallas, TX:
Why did you persevere with Stevie Wonderboy - most owners would have retired him after his first injury, let alone his second?

Stevie Wonderboy is in great shape.  There have been a couple of glitches in his career, but he is working out now and seems not to have lost any of his great spirit and desire to run.

Recent Posts

More Blogs