Oh, the irony. Getting out of the Thoroughbred business because he has been denied stalls in numerous states and even denied permission to enter horses at one racetrack, Michael Gill won the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner for 2005.
The 49-year-old mortgage executive, a father of five, won the most races of any owner in North America, 351, and tallied the most purse earnings, $6,397,180. Leading in those categories, however, proved meaningless in 2003 and 2004, when Gill was denied the Eclipse Award despite racking up even more impressive numbers than his 2005 statistics.
His wins for the year were down more than 100 from his 2004 total, and his earnings dropped precipitously from the $10.8 million his horses made in 2004. Have we mentioned the irony?
Gill stormed onto the Thoroughbred scene early this century with all the subtlety of a 380-pound defensive tackle. He claimed horses by the dozens, including some owned by racetrack and association executives. He was ostracized for his efforts.
"I guess the old-boy network didn't like my aggressiveness," Gill said recently. "People told me not to claim horses from certain people, and I guess they were right."
So Gill, who entered 2005 with some 440 head of horses, exited the year with 50, including weanlings and yearlings, having sold horses both privately and through claiming races. He is also in the process of selling the training center he built in Oxford, Pa. Without being able to get stalls, Gill was forced to ship horses wherever he wanted to run.
His Umpateedle won three stakes contests in 2005, including the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II). Forest Music, Ambition Unbridled, Lusty Latin, Sarah's Prospect, Spring Rush, Thermal Ablasion, and Worldwind Romance also took added-money races for Gill in 2005.
"I'm going to miss racing, and I think racing is going to miss me too," Gill noted.