Tim Capps brought a rare and extraordinarily varied set of life experiences to his position as the University of Louisville's Equine Business program director. His death April 22, related to complications following a stroke in mid-February, now leaves an enormous gap to fill not only for the program but in the hearts of the students and faculty whose lives he enriched.
"Since he had been ailing, you could see he's had a huge impact on people's lives," said Todd Mooradian, dean of Louisville's College of Business. "He had all sorts of expertise in his field and connections in the industry, so he was an asset we are going to miss. But no one is thinking about the asset this morning, they are thinking about the man. I can tell you what I see, and we are a community in mourning because of who he was."
Capps, 71, is remembered throughout the Thoroughbred industry for his intellectual curiosity, breadth of knowledge in many areas, and a dry yet disarming wit.
"For all that Tim had done in his life, he never took himself too seriously," said Craig Bandoroff, the owner of Denali Stud, who Capps recruited as a guest lecturer for the past four years. "He would always start a class with something that made everyone laugh. He was a kidder and enjoyed that banter with the students."
Equine Business student Christine Oser described Capps as "the ultimate mentor" on her blog "I Ride and I Write; It's Not That Confusing."
"All who knew him know that signature Capps smirk, that look over his glasses that makes you think you're in trouble, and the sarcasm that made Capps, well, Capps," Oser wrote. "It wasn't just my master's degree he helped me with, he also helped me realize what I wanted to do when I finished school, and that is journalism in the equine industry. I still remember being in his office one day, him looking me straight in the eye and saying, 'You need to believe in yourself.' No sarcasm or jokes that time, all seriousness. He knew us all too well."
Capps' background included service as a U.S. Army infantry officer and platoon leader. He left the Army as a captain with several commendations for combat service and joined the Department of Defense as a management analyst with supply procurement and support systems. Capps would go on to work as director of operations for The Jockey Club, then relocate to Wall Street where he worked as a stock broker for Dean Witter Reynolds, and then as an equity portfolio manager for Balch Hardy & Scheinman.
He eventually went back to his college training—Capps earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee—when he became editor and publisher of the Thoroughbred Record magazine from the 1970s through the mid-1980s. His next stop was with Barry Weisbord's Matchmaker, which offered consulting services to racetracks. With Matchmaker, Capps was instrumental in developing the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes (G3) along with redesigning the Washington D.C. International and creating the Laurel International Turf Festival.
"After my dad passed away in 1989, we wanted to create a memorial race that would honor his memory and have an impact on the national racing calendar," said Joe De Francis, former president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "Tim played a key role in the decisions that the race should be a sprint as opposed to a distance race and on the dirt as opposed to the grass. It was a terrific idea and over time—speaking as a son—a really worthy tribute to my father. His involvement was one of the reasons I hired him."
Capps' road to Louisville began in Maryland where he befriended Rich Wilcke, who had been hired to create Maryland Million day. When Wilcke left as executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association/Maryland Million, he encouraged the boards of both organizations to hire Capps.
"I told them they needed a guy with a breadth of knowledge about the industry, who understands racing, and can handle the magazine (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred) that we had just started the year before," said Wilcke, who had been hired as executive-in-residence with the Louisville Equine Business program. "Tim had everything they'd want."
In 2006, when Wilcke took over as Equine Business director, he reached out to Capps.
"We were looking for more faculty, and it wasn't good enough to have a Ph.D. in economics, we wanted faculty members who had a deep understanding of the industry and intellectual curiosity about its past and future," he said. "Again, Tim was perfect."
Capps joined Louisville as an executive-in-residence and took the position of director in 2011.
Bob Lawrence, who the university hired in 1987 to build the Equine Business program, said Capps' contributions were invaluable.
"There was no part of racing, from the time you covered a mare to the time it retired from the racetrack that he had not been involved with. He knew all of it," Lawrence said. "We also had involvement with the non-racing segments of the industry and added expertise in that area because we were turning out management people that could go to a major fair or major equestrian facility."
Capps drew regularly upon a deep pool of industry connections to not only help enhance his curriculum with real-world perspectives but also keep him up-to-date on industry changes and trends.
"We used to kid that if you wanted to get caught up on things, call Tim, ask him a question, and then sit back for the next 15 minutes," Lawrence said. "He would give you it all."
Capps is survived by his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Meredith. The memorial service for Tim Capps will be Monday, May 22 , 11:30 am, Westport Road Baptist Church, 9705 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40241.