(Originally published in the May 7, 2011 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Mike Lauffer is a connection of Kentucky Derby contender Shackleford.
When Mike Lauffer and partner Bill Cubbedge bought back a Forestry colt at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale, they thought long and hard before naming the newest member of their racing stable.
“We were thinking at the time he needs a good name, because with his pedigree he could possibly be a good horse some day,” recalled Lauffer, majority owner in the partnership that primarily breeds for the commercial market and races those that do not get sold in the auction ring.
They settled on Shackleford, so-named for the southernmost barrier island off the North Carolina coast that is home to feral horses that have inhabited the land for several hundred years. Lauffer said he and Cubbedge are frequent visitors to Shackleford Island.
Shackleford now has two wins and earnings of $271,666 in five career starts for trainer Dale Romans. The colt stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) through the grade I Florida Derby, where he led throughout before giving up the lead late and finished second to Dialed In at 68-1 odds.
As commercial breeders, Lauffer and Cubbedge sometimes have to make difficult decisions. Although they wanted to keep Shackleford, they put him in the sale with what they thought was a reasonable reserve.
“We hated to sell him because he was a real nice horse from the start,” Lauffer said. “You have to keep some cash flowing in this business. We put him in the Keeneland sale with a $275,000 reserve and the last live bid we had was $250,000.”
So Shackleford became the first colt bought back by the partners, who historically have bought back fillies due to their greater residual value for breeding.
“You’re taking a big chance on colts,” said Lauffer, 57. “When you decide to keep a colt and race him, if he doesn’t win a lot of money at the track or become a stallion, chances are you’re going to lose a lot of money.”
Shackleford’s success typifies the owner’s experience since he became more active in the horse business in 2006.
A native of Paintsville, Ky., Lauffer first became attracted to horses while attending the races as a business and economics major at the University of Kentucky.
“I just loved to watch the horses and bet on them,” he said. “At that point, I never did think about one day owning a horse that’s going to be in the Kentucky Derby.”
Lauffer turned his attention instead to running his family’s oil and gas business, JML Oil & Gas. Lauffer is a third-generation oil and gas professional, and his father, Jim, is a petroleum engineer.
Lauffer became an owner in 2005 when he purchased 2% interest in a partnership put together by Marty Takacs, who operates Belvedere Farm near Paris, Ky. The farm is owned by Lauffer, his father, and partner Cubbedge and is leased to Takacs.
In 2006 Lauffer took a bigger plunge when, on the advice of Takacs and bloodstock agent Michael Miller, he and Cubbedge bought the Unbridled mare Oatsee for $135,000 at the Keeneland January sale.
It proved to be a most fortuitous purchase, as later that same week Baghdaria, Oatsee’s daughter sired by Royal Academy, won the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III). Oatsee’s value continued to improve as another of her daughters, Lady Joanne, a daughter of Orientate, won the Alabama Stakes (gr. I). Shackleford was the last foal Oatsee produced for Lauffer and Cubbedge because they sold her in foal to A.P. Indy for $1.55 million at the 2008 Keeneland November sale.
While Oatsee proved to be a financial windfall for Lauffer, his best decision came in late 2008 when he purchased half-interest in a promising 2-year-old named Rachel Alexandra for $500,000. For Lauffer and Dolphus Morrision, her breeder, Rachel Alexandra went on to win the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) before being sold to the late Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick for $10 million.
Of course, Rachel went on to establish herself as one of racing’s all-time great fillies, earning more than $3.5 million and being crowned 2009 Horse of the Year.
With successes such as Oatsee and Rachel Alexandra to his credit, Lauffer would appear to be an astute horseman. However, he credits others, including Takacs, Cubbedge, Romans, and the Webb Carroll Training Center in South Carolina where Shackleford was prepped for racing, for his success. Along with a large element of luck.
“I’m no expert by any means,” said the unassuming Lauffer. “We have just been very fortunate and very lucky. You try to position yourself to get lucky. I’ve had some friends and some good advisers in this business and that’s what’s important.”
Lauffer said he expects to have between 50-100 friends and family, including his wife, Kim, and children Seth, Will, and Clara, at the Derby.
“I watch the Derby every year, and it’s a great race. One thing is clear in horse racing: A good horse can come from anywhere. It doesn’t make a difference how big your stable is or how much money you throw into it. Anything’s possible in the horse business.”