(Originally published in the July 2, 2011 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Growing up on the sidewalks of New York, Peter Callahan thought he’d like to win the race named after his hometown of Astoria, Queens. The grade III race for 2-year-old fillies at Belmont Park has since been discontinued by the New York Racing Association, and Callahan has moved on to bigger game.
With 25 years in the horse business under his belt and more than a decade removed from his last “big horse”—1999 Futurity Stakes (gr. I) winner Bevo—Callahan regained full stride in recent months as the owner of Pan Zareta Stakes winner Beautician and Scotus, winner of the June 18 Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. He is also the co-breeder of grade I winner and $2.5 million earner Awesome Gem, who ran second in the June 25 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr III).
“That’s the way things go for a smallish racing entity like mine; I only get lucky once every 10 years,” said Callahan, a publishing and communications mogul. “But last year and this year, I’ve been twice blessed.”
Callahan’s breakthrough in the industry came in the mid-1980s when he went from being a fractional owner of a mare to its managing partner. Subsequently, he met Runnymede Farm’s Catesby Clay and Martin O’Dowd, the farm’s vice president and managing partner.
They’ve been together ever since, buying and breeding mares and selling and racing their offspring.
“We all get along well,” O’Dowd said of Callahan. “As Mr. Clay and I were buying an odd mare here and there, if there was one we really liked, we’d ask Peter if he’d like to take a piece.”
“I don’t think Mr. Clay and I have ever had a piece of paper governing our affairs,” Callahan said. “It’s always been done by a handshake or a telephone call with Martin participating or quarterbacking.”
The group has had its fair share of success. In 1996 they bought Chancey Squaw from the Keeneland November sale for $145,000, and she produced Agnes Digital, who went on to earn more than $8 million in Japan and now stands at stud there at Big Red Farm. At the 1996 Keeneland September sale, they paid $190,000 for Piano, the dam of Awesome Gem. As a yearling, Awesome Gem sold for $150,000 at the 2004 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale.
“I’m so proud of him. He shows little sign of wear and tear,” said Callahan of Awesome Gem, who has an 8-14-5 slate from 44 starts and six years of racing for West Point Thoroughbreds. “Mr. Clay and I are rooting for the boy because we get a little bit of money every time he wins a graded stakes.”
Callahan is also proud of Beautician, who ran second in the 2009 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and fourth behind Blind Luck in last year’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She won the Pan Zareta at Fair Grounds in February and has since moved on to her new home at Runnymede, where she has been bred to Street Cry.
And then there’s Scotus, a 3-year-old son of Successful Appeal who turned back a nice field to win the Matt Winn by a length for trainer Kenny McPeek. In the next race at Churchill Downs, McPeek saddled Runnymede’s Bizzy Caroline to win the Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT).
Scotus, a $25,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, broke his maiden at first asking March 23 at Gulfstream Park and placed in three consecutive two-turn allowance races before the Matt Winn.
“He’s a late bloomer who has popped up, and we’re looking to have some fun with him,” Callahan said.
Callahan has had fun not only in racing but in business as well. As unit president of MacFadden Publishing, he was the principal shareholder in the National Enquirer from 1989-99.
“I was going to call my stable ‘Elvis Stables,’ but I thought that would be inappropriate,” he said.
Callahan also had a stake in the Daily Racing Form when it was run by the private equity Alpine Group.
“Putting ink on dead trees is sort of generic,” he deadpanned, noting MacFadden has shifted toward the business-to-business category.
Semi-retired and living in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Callahan can best be categorized as enthusiastic and, above all, loyal.
“When he’s your friend, he’s your friend,” O’Dowd said. “He’s one of the most important people in my life, personally. We don’t think of him as a client; we think of him as a friend. Anything we do for ourselves, we do for him.”