Kentucky Derby weekend in Louisville had it all. It was exciting yet bizarre, colorful yet weird, and tense yet quiet…often at the same time. But it makes sense in a year when Hunter S. Thompson’s once “Decadent and Depraved” Kentucky Derby was “disinfectant and delayed” due to a global pandemic and run in a city with raw nerves following more than 100 days of protesting over the death of Breonna Taylor during a “no knock” warrant being served by the Louisville Metro Police in March.
The city’s police, along with the Kentucky State Police, were en masse at Churchill Downs in anticipation of protest groups calling for the cancellation of this year’s Derby. Protesters held a peaceful demonstration across Central Avenue from the main entrance, and a few minutes after the “fastest two minutes in sports,” the protesters had moved on.
It’s not the first time there has been a heavy security detail at the Derby, nor is it the first Derby that shut out patrons and media members. With President Richard Nixon in attendance at the 1969 Derby, security was “tight from the spires to the tulip beds and over in the barn area” according to the May 10, 1969, issue of The Blood-Horse. The following year, as Thompson took in the Derby, our editor Kent Hollingsworth was on the outside looking in. He wrote:
“The crush of press coverage attendant upon this greatest spectacle in racing squeezed The Blood-Horse out of the largest pressbox in the world. While our National Turf Writers Association button, coupled with an American Express card, is good elsewhere, the combination was not good for admittance to the Churchill Downs parking lot, grandstand, box section, paddock, centerfield pagoda, jockey quarters, or barns, so we stayed home.”
Hollingsworth was 50 years ahead of his time.
We were lucky enough to be on hand for a Derby that offered many “firsts.” While not a first, the victory by Authentic points to a trend in the arena of Thoroughbred ownership. A new wave of “conglomerate” buyers of yearlings appears to be taking hold, having won the Derby for the second time in three years.
Justify won the 2018 Run for the Roses, along with the Triple Crown, for a group consisting of the deep-pocketed China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners, and Starlight Racing (the later two had purchased the racing rights from SF Bloodstock). The colt had been hammered down by China Horse Club and Maverick Racing (a buying arm of WinStar) for $500,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Two years after Justify went through the ring, another “conglomerate” group was spearheaded by SF Bloodstock. Authentic sold for $350,000 to SF Bloodstock and Starlight West, but there were other partners as well, including Sol Kumin, who races under many names, including Madaket Stables and Head of Plains Partners.
Authentic won while wearing the silks of MyRaceHorse Stables, a micro-share partnership group headed by Michael Behrens, which owns 12.5% of the colt. Their approach to the sport has its own unique bent, and his tale is told in the lead story and sidebar on the owners. MyRaceHorse Stables partnered with B. Wayne Hughes, master of Spendthrift Farm, who bought into the colt after his third start from SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Frederick Hertrich III, John D. Fielding, and Golconda Stables. Starlight Racing and Madaket Stables remained in on the Derby winner.
Kumin has mastered his own innovative ownership philosophy and has enjoyed great success with horses such as champions Lady Eli, Uni, and Monomoy Girl. He has hitched his wagon to many stars.
“Tom Ryan (of SF Bloodstock) put the group together,” Kumin said the day after being part of a second Derby victory. “They had wanted to form their own group where they were calling the shots. They had their own idea on how to do it.”
“Tom asked if me and Jack (Wolf of Starlight) wanted to do it, and my thought was (trainer Bob) Baffert and (agent) Donato (Lanni) are the best, and they’ve had a ton of success together. We both said ‘yes’ right away, and they filled in with some other people. Brad Weisbord helped bring in some of the smaller people to the table.”
The plan was to amass $10 million and buy 20 yearlings. Obviously it worked as among the first group came Derby winner Authentic, grade 1 winner Eight Rings, and Charlatan, who has been disqualified from his first-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
We wouldn’t expect blocs of yearling buyers to dissipate anytime soon. When done right, it apparently is a great way to amass top prospects while spreading the risk–a basic tenet of business.
The Derby can be decadent, just not this year; but innovation is required to reach the winner’s circle…year after year