While Catholic Boy was the star of the day Aug. 25 at Saratoga Race Course with his four-length score in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1), another presence at the track cut a pretty wide swath: James McIngvale.
The Texan entrepreneur who has built his Gallery Furniture stores in the Houston area into national prominence, McIngvale has poured millions of dollars into Thoroughbred racing, both in buying horses to race and in racing sponsorships. He was a trailblazer some 20 years ago when he took the sponsorship of the Jim Beam Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park and turned it into the GalleryFurniture.com Stakes.
His passion for the game is immense; his generosity in promoting the sport has no bounds. Where could Thoroughbred racing be if we had five more guys like him?
Now with the best horse he ever raced—2015 champion male sprinter Runhappy—at stud at Claiborne Farm, McIngvale has stepped in with promoting the stallion, specifically with the New York Racing Association, even though Runhappy seemingly needs little in the way of marketing.
Popular with fans when he tore through the NYRA.com King’s Bishop Stakes (G1, at Saratoga), Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G3), and the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and with breeders from the get-go, Runhappy covered 127 mares in 2017 according to The Jockey Club Fact Book. At last year’s breeding stock sales, 15 mares in foal to Runhappy sold for an average of $160,667.
“I’ve always been prone to brand building,” McIngvale said the day after the Travers. “It’s about getting the word out. I’ve always admired Coca-Cola and companies like that.
“I think it is important to build the brand for Runhappy, to showcase what he’s accomplished and what a great value he is as a stallion prospect. I believe in the power of advertising—it built my furniture store and, hopefully, it will help Runhappy as a stallion.
“From what I’ve been told, the third year is the tough year, so I want to make sure he gets a nice book (for 2019). Hopefully, his weanlings will sell well in the November sales at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland.
“It will help the breeders who have already bred to him…and give them some confidence. It’s a win-win for everybody in the industry. I just believe in advertising.”
McIngvale’s involvement with NYRA got more traction back in January when they inked a deal to sponsor the pre-race handicapping show, rename a stakes the Runhappy Stakes that was run in May, and have a presence during the Belmont Stakes (G1) weekend which just so happened to feature the Triple Crown run by Justify.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with NYRA and (president) Chris (Kay),” McIngvale said. “I had secured that long before Justify won the other two races, so that was a home run as far as marketing goes. Heading into the Travers…the King’s Bishop (now the Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes), was the best race Runhappy ran, so being there and having a presence at Saratoga was important to me.
“I like Saratoga because they do a great job with the fans and it was a great day, with great weather, and lots of Runhappy signage.”
We’ve been lucky enough to have been around McIngvale for several years and have admired his maverick spirit. He’s also always accessible, always candid, and always questioning what lies ahead.
“That stakes race, the GalleryFurniture.com race…we were ahead of our time on that one,” he said. “What’s different now is the digital revolution. I’m just trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
McIngvale never goes negative. He always tries to find the edge.
“Now is a good time for horse racing to step up,” he said. “Football is having its problems with its head injuries and other things. It’s a good time for our game to step up and reach more people—especially the millennials. There were a lot of young people at Saratoga yesterday. That’s a promising sign for the industry.”