Happy Scorpions - By Tracy Gantz

Rustin and Juliana Kretz are a little young at 32 and 27, respectively, to have a bucket list. But because they started on the list early with a trip to the 2010 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), they now own about 25 horses. It took only a year for them to experience their first stakes victory when John Johny Jak took the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes Aug. 24 at Del Mar.

A casual racing fan before the Derby trip, Rustin decided to take Juliana to Louisville for her birthday.

“I always wanted to go, and I’ve loved watching the Derby on TV for many years,” Rustin said. “I figured it would be something really cool to do and cross off my list and a different birthday present.”

The couple watched Super Saver win the Derby on a rainy, windy day, but the weather didn’t deter them.

“We had so much fun,” said Juliana. “We fell in love with the people and the atmosphere.”

Added Rustin, “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was like the Super Bowl, but with amazing and beautiful animals.”

Back home in the Santa Clarita area of California, about 30 miles north of Los Angeles, Rustin began toying with the idea of owning a Thoroughbred. By the end of May, he was researching trainers online, and he came across Kristin Mulhall.

“She is young, energetic, and we love her overall philosophy of how she trains,” said Juliana. “She is humane and so honest.”

Mulhall found a promising horse in Florida for the Kretzes in Westwood Pride, and she bought the filly privately. Before the end of 2010, Westwood Pride had finished second in the Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) and fourth in the Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT).

“Westwood Pride changed my life,” said Rustin, who as a longtime University of Southern California Trojans fan at first wished he could rename her since USC’s hated rival, the University of California at Los Angeles, is in Westwood, Calif. “After seeing the type of heart she has and how much she fights out there, I even welcome the UCLA fight song and have had Jay Cohen (the bugler at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park) play it for us.”

Mulhall bought more horses for the Kretzes and also put them into partnerships on a few horses such as stakes-placed Square Deal.

“They love racing,” said Mulhall. “They are very good people who are going to be good for the game.”

To ensure the Kretzes had a variety of horses and a group in the pipeline, Mulhall went to the sales, buying several yearlings at the 2010 Keeneland September sale.

Out of this year’s Barretts March 2-year-old sale, she selected a son of Dixie Union from the family of millionaire Tejano Run. Now named Scorpion Warrior, he finished second in his first two races, once to eventual Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) winner Majestic City.

“He was precocious early, but he’s really a two-turn horse,” said Mulhall, who is taking her time with the colt.

Rustin named Scorpion Warrior after the website design company he founded and operates. Scorpion Design, based in Valencia, Calif., specializes in marketing attorneys and medical professionals. Rustin worked three jobs to be able to develop the company, and it now employs 80 people, all of whom get to experience the highs and lows of the Kretzes’ racing stable.

“I wanted to include the Scorpion logo in our silks because it’s not just about me personally,” said Rustin. “When one of the horses runs, they run for everyone at Scorpion Design.”

Work stops, and the televisions click on throughout the office whenever a Scorpion horse competes.

“Everyone goes absolutely crazy,” Rustin said.

John Johny Jak made it especially nerve-wracking in the Brubaker. Rustin had purchased him hoping that he could win the July 27 Wickerr Stakes on Mulhall’s birthday.

“When he was edged out by a nose on her birthday, I couldn’t wait to get him back to the races,” Rustin said.

That opportunity came in the Brubaker at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. With Joel Rosario aboard, John Johny Jak held off favored Norvsky by a nose. Rustin and Juliana watched it live at Del Mar while the rest of the office staff watched on television.

“I saw Norvsky closing fast,” said Rustin, “and all I was thinking was, ‘Please don’t get there in time!’ ”

The finish was so close that while the photo was being decided, Rustin called the office to see if they could tell who had won. While on the phone, Rustin saw John Johny Jak’s number, 4, light up in the winner’s spot.

“I found Kristin down by the winner’s circle and nearly squeezed her to death,” said Rustin. “It was an amazing feeling. There is no bigger rush than winning a stakes in a photo finish.”

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