George Hicker admits that buying a 6-year-old gelding might look like it doesn’t have much upside, especially when the horse hasn’t won a race in two years. But Tres Borrachos had back class and was training well for Hicker’s conditioner, Marty Jones. Besides, the Del Mar meet was about to begin.
“I probably wouldn’t have bought him if Del Mar wasn’t coming up,” said Hicker. “I like coming down here for the meet, and I knew we’d have a horse that would find some opportunities to run.”
Tres Borrachos found his first opportunity in the July 30 San Diego Handicap (gr. II), and he made the most of it. He won by 1 1/4 lengths over favored Kevlar Kid, earning himself an automatic spot in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) and perhaps a chance in Del Mar’s $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 28.
Tres Borrachos came up for sale when his trainer and co-owner, Beau Greely, underwent a hip replacement and took time off from training. For Greely, the gelded son of Ecton Park—Pete’s Fancy, by Peteski, had won the 2008 Swaps Stakes (gr. II) and placed in four other stakes, including the 2009 TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).
Jones began training Tres Borrachos earlier this year. When the gelding finished third in an allowance sprint at Hollywood Park, he impressed Hicker enough that he bought him about a month before the San Diego.
Hicker is no newcomer to owning horses. He claimed his first horse in the 1970s and developed an interest in racing through visits to Vernon Downs, a harness track, while he was attending Syracuse University. Hicker played basketball at Syracuse with future NBA all-star and Hall of Famer Dave Bing, now the mayor of Detroit and a good friend.
“Dave Bing is the reason I went to Syracuse,” said Hicker.
A Syracuse Orangeman from 1965-68, Hicker ended his college career as the fourth-leading scorer in the school’s history with 1,245 points. He was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and played with them through the exhibition season. Atlanta wanted to send him down to the Eastern league, so Hicker decided to play in Europe for a couple of seasons.
Once he finished his basketball career, Hicker succeeded in several venues, from working in television at NBC to managing such musical artists as Iron Butterfly, the Chambers Brothers, and Rick James. A longtime fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Hicker named his commercial real estate company the Cardinal Company (now Cardinal Industrial, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif.). The baseball team’s mascot also adorns Hicker’s racing silks.
Hicker began attending the races at Hollywood Park after he moved to the Los Angeles area during his rock-band management days.
“I loved the competition,” he said.
J.R. McCutcheon was Hicker’s first trainer, and later Gary Jones trained for him. After Jones retired in 1997, his son Marty took over. Hicker has owned horses in various partnerships, primarily with Doug McClure, Alex Venneri, and the late Dan Robinson. His stakes winners have included Jungle Pioneer, Black Monday, and Sharekann.
But perhaps the most important role the racetrack has played in Hicker’s life involves the two sons he and his wife, Kathy, adopted. The Hickers discovered an organization called Kidsave International, which finds homes in the U.S. for older children from orphanages in foreign countries.
Through its program Summer Miracles, Kidsave brings youngsters to this country for six weeks. The Hickers took two Russian boys, Kolya and Kostya, to Del Mar in 2003, and the boys loved the experience. Ultimately, the couple decided to adopt Kolya and Kostya, though it took 2 1/2 years to complete the process because of political red tape. The boys, now 20 and 18, are both working for Jones at Del Mar this summer.
Hicker believes strongly in helping young people, not only individually such as with his two sons, but through the international Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Hicker is head of the FCA in South Central Los Angeles.
“In 2005 we had four schools and 150 kids,” Hicker said. “Now we have 65 schools and 2,500 kids a week in the program. We just had 700 kids go to camp at UCLA.
“People don’t have to be Christians, and they don’t have to be terribly religious. But the fact is when kids start reading the Bible—particularly kids in the inner city where large portions don’t have father figures—they get away from guns and they get away from drugs and they get away from gangs.”
Hicker’s involvement with FCA is just one way he tries, as a former college and pro athlete, to be a role model.
“If you’re fortunate enough to be fortunate,” Hicker said, “you’re supposed to try to help those who are less fortunate.”