Owner/Breeder Profile: Princely Pleasure

Published as part of the Preakness Stakes coverage in the May 26 Blood-Horse
Prince Ahmed Salman likes quality, and he believed he had the goods in Point Given. He made the long trip from Saudi Arabia to Kentucky for the first Saturday in May to chase immortality.

The Thoroughbred Corp., his racing and breeding operation, has been cranking out top racehorses for years. There have been three Breeders' Cup winners, owned exclusively or in partnership, but no classics trophies in the United States.

On May 4, the day before the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Salman celebrated in the winner's circle with his uncle, Juddmonte Farms owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, after Flute won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). It had the makings of a dandy double for the royal family from Saudi Arabia, but it wasn't meant to be.

Point Given, for the first time in eight races, didn't fire his best shot. Salman, a consummate horseman who loves racing strategy, thought the colt was too close to the pace given the rapid fractions in the Derby and was taken out of his game.

On May 19, the old Point Given--the one who appears to cover more ground in one stride than the average racehorse--was back. The son of 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch was the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) victor, but Salman, who had just returned to Saudi Arabia, didn't make the trip to Maryland.

Instead, he watched the race in the wee hours of the morning in the Middle East via satellite. His faith in homebred Point Given was justified. Maybe it came two weeks late, but Salman had a classic's trophy, and he is believed to be the first owner from the Middle East to do so.

"He was very happy," said Richard Mulhall, president of The Thoroughbred Corp., after he spoke to Salman by telephone following the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. "He's very happy with the way the horse ran, and has a good feeling that the horse is back again. One of the people with him said he had tears in his eyes while he watched."

There was plenty of second-guessing after Point Given's fifth-place finish in the Derby. Salman apparently gave Mulhall, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Gary Stevens a few suggestions. If there was nothing physically wrong, it had to be the trip. After all, the colt's cakewalk in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) had many observers ready to concede the Triple Crown about a month before it began.

"The prince felt Point Given needed to be ridden a little more patiently (in the Preakness)," Stevens said shortly after he won his second Preakness. "I felt bad for Prince Ahmed after the Derby. Any time you put horses on a pedestal, you're setting yourself up for a fall. I know what we have, and Bob (Baffert) knows what we have, but how do you explain that to an owner?"

Much of that job goes to Mulhall, who retired from training in 1995 to take over as racing manager for The Thoroughbred Corp. Mulhall called Salman a strategist--"Sometimes that's good, but sometimes that's bad," he said with a laugh--who understands the game because he grew up with a love of horses.

Salman, born in 1958 in Saudi Arabia, is a graduate of the University of California-Irvine. His publishing business, with operations in Saudi Arabia and England, includes four newspapers and about 10 magazines.

The horse business, of course, probably isn't as profitable. But it was horses that led him to contact Mulhall, a college friend, when he needed a trainer. Mulhall trained for Salman, as well as other clients, for years before he took the full-time job with The Thoroughbred Corp.

One of the operation's more prominent runners was Sharp Cat, a seven-time grade I winner and earner of over $2 million whom Mulhall said remains Salman's favorite. The Breeders' Cup winners were Spain (Distaff, gr. I, 2000); Anees (Juvenile, gr. I, 1999); and Jewel Princess (Distaff, 1996). His other classic winner is Oath, who took the 1999 Epsom Derby (Eng-I).

The Thoroughbred Corp., with headquarters in Bradbury, Calif., finished third in earnings in North America last year with $5,880,705. Mulhall breaks the yearlings in California, while Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington houses a majority of the operation's broodmares.

The Thoroughbred Corp. made a splash when it was the leading buyer at the 1996 Keeneland November sale with $4.5 million in purchases, and the 1997 Barretts select sale of 2-year-olds with $3.56 million in purchases.

Mulhall said there are no partners in The Thoroughbred Corp., though the entity does from time to time own horses with others. For instance, Jewel Princess was co-owned by Richard and Martha Stephen.

Salman has roughly 60 horses in training, but when asked for an exact number, Mulhall said: "We have enough to accomplish our goal, which is to win classic races."

There have been some ups and downs in the training department for The Thoroughbred Corp. Initially, Baffert, Gary Jones, and D. Wayne Lukas had horses for Salman. In 1997, Wally Dollase became the private trainer, but he and the organization split in 1999.

Alex Hassinger Jr., who conditioned Anees, took over from Dollase but parted company with Salman in 2000. Currently, John Shirreffs handles most of the string in California, though Baffert still gets some horses. One of them is Point Given, whom he has trained since the colt made his first start in August of last year.

Salman and Baffert have a good working relationship.

"You can't b.s. the prince," Baffert said after Point Given returned to the Pimlico stakes barn following the Preakness. "He's a horseman. He follows his horses, studies the game, knows pedigrees, and has some ideas. The prince has been a very good owner, and he wants a good horse.

"He's very competitive, but he just has so much passion for the horse. I wish he was here for this."

Baffert said Salman is quite generous, too. When Point Given won the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) last December, he received a new watch. For the Preakness engagement, Baffert got a sharp new outfit. "We have a mutual respect for each other," he said.

Under Baffert's care, Point Given has earned $1.86 million for Salman. Not bad for a colt that, as a yearling on the farm in California, didn't necessarily send the message he'd be ready for prime time.

"To be honest, when I broke him and sent him to Bob, he was just a gangly colt," Mulhall said. "I ended up selling the mare because I really didn't like her other foal. But one day Bob called me and told me this colt could run, so I bought the mare back. I'll admit she cost a lot more money, but it was worth it."

Who knows? Maybe Turko's Turn will produce another Sharp Cat or Point Given. Remember, Salman is always on the lookout for a good horse.