B. Wayne Hughes could have used a little "Hollywood magic" for some of the bloodstock purchases he's made over the years. An enthusiastic owner who's invested more than $40 million on yearlings and 2-year-olds at public auction over the last 15 years, the founder and board chairman of the hugely successful Public Storage company has had far more bad luck than good.
His lone grade I winner was Joyeux Danseur, a $450,000 Keeneland July yearling bought in 1994 who retired to stud in 1999 after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). The Nureyev colt, trained by Al Stall Jr. in the Midwest, was the first and only Breeders' Cup starter for Hughes.
For every Joyeux Danseur there has been a barn full of horses like Wayne's Whirl, a $250,000 Keeneland July graduate who went winless during a 21-race career, or Lochlin Slew, a $1.25 million Keeneland April 2-year-old who never started.
His luck, however, may be changing. Hughes, who was associated with trainer George Vogel during the leanest of his racing years, has what looks to be a bona fide Triple Crown contender with Ron Ellis, who replaced Vogel as West Coast trainer and bloodstock adviser for Hughes in 1998. Ellis hopes the horse, Atswhatimtalknbout, will put Hughes in the Churchill Downs infield winner's circle on the first Saturday in May with what would be his first Kentucky Derby (gr. I) starter.
Hughes took in some celebrity partners in Atswhatimtalknbout just one week before the colt was to make his stakes debut in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 16. They include legendary moviemaker Steven Spielberg, a co-founder of DreamWorks, one of the companies responsible for making Seabiscuit, the film adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book. Other partners in the horse are the husband and wife producing team of Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, co-producers of Seabiscuit, and Gary Ross, another co-producer who also directed and wrote the film's script. Seabiscuit is due in theaters in July.
Hughes reportedly sold a 10% interest in the horse for approximately $500,000. Retired jockey Chris McCarron, who served as a technical adviser on the film and recently was named general manager of Santa Anita Park, is credited with bringing Spielberg and partners into the ownership ranks.
Spielberg, like Hughes a graduate of the University of Southern California, has been associated with many of Hollywood's biggest blockbuster hits as director or producer, including Jaws, E.T.
, and Schindler's List.
Kennedy, Marshall, and Ross have been involved in some major productions, many of them with Spielberg.
Atswhatimtalknbout, a colt by A.P. Indy out of the Red Ransom mare Lucinda K, was a $900,000 purchase at the 2002 Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-olds in training sale. Only one among the 21 yearlings and five 2-year-olds bought by Hughes in 2002 cost more.
In addition to generating better results on the racetrack than his predecessor did, Ellis has prevailed on Hughes to spend less money per horse while increasing the number of runners in his stable.
The 26 purchases made last year were the most ever for Hughes. The average per horse of about $320,000 is much more sensible to Ellis than the $500,000-plus Hughes averaged in the years before Ellis came on board.
"I think he knows now that you have to have the numbers if you want to compete with the other big stables," Ellis said. "You can't do that by buying three or four horses a year."
Hughes has the numbers, and he's demonstrated a strong commitment to ownership. Now if he can just prevail on his film-making partners to provide him with a happy Hollywood ending come Derby time.