WinStar president and CEO of racing operations Elliott Walden

WinStar president and CEO of racing operations Elliott Walden

Anne M. Eberhardt

Owners of Multiple Classic Horses Plot Their Course

Owners of multiple classic horses plot course for their runners.

As much as some situations might seem unique, in a sport with a history as long and rich as horse racing, there's often a correlation with an event from the past.

In this year's Triple Crown chase, a frequent topic of discussion has been ownership groups with multiple horses in the series. 

At the top of that list comes Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Justify, who is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing, and Head of Plains Partners and trained by Bob Baffert. The same four groups also own Audible, who was third for trainer Todd Pletcher in the Derby but is passing up a rematch with Justify in the May 19 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course and is being pointed toward the June 9 Belmont Stakes (G1).

As much as multiple ownership groups have become more popular in recent years, for decades owners have found themselves in the tricky situation of having to decide how to manage multiple Triple Crown contenders.

In the days leading up to the 1972 Preakness, Meadow Stable owner Penny Chenery faced a quandary. After her 3-year-old Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby, weather forecasts called for heavy rain at Pimlico on Preakness Day. Riva Ridge was ill-suited by a wet track, prompting Chenery and trainer Lucien Laurin to also enter Riva Ridge's stablemate Upper Case, who had captured the Wood Memorial by 1 1/2 lengths on a sloppy track.   

After considerable thought, Chenery decided to scratch Upper Case from the Preakness due to a fear of wrecking Riva Ridge's bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 24 years.

As it turned out, Riva Ridge floundered on a sloppy surface and finished fourth as a 3-10 favorite. Three weeks later, on a fast track, Riva Ridge returned to top form and romped by seven lengths in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

"That rain made me sick," Ron Turcotte, Riva Ridge's regular jockey, said in a 2012 interview. "I was hoping they would scratch him and run Upper Case, but they said they would regret it for the rest of their lives if 'Riva' ran second to Upper Case."

Fast-forward to the upcoming Preakness and, in a different twist to the events of 1972, Justify will be facing a rival who is owned by two members of the Derby winner's current ownership team. Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip runs for WinStar and China Horse Club along with SF Racing—which sold its racing interest in Justify and Audible to Starlight Racing and Head of Plains but retained breeding rights. After finishing second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) for trainer Rodolphe Brisset, Quip bypassed the Derby to target the Preakness.

Conceivably, Quip could thwart Justify's Triple Crown hopes, but WinStar president and CEO of racing operations Elliott Walden says he's willing to run Quip and take that chance, knowing that Quip will be a longshot to beat Justify in the Preakness.

"Justify is a gifted horse and we're lucky to have him," Walden said. "I feel if Justify is meant to be a Triple Crown winner, he'll be able to beat Quip in the Preakness. He won't let Quip beat him. If he can't, then it wasn't meant to be." 

Walden added that at this point in the Triple Crown, it's premature to talk about sweeping the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.

"So far we have won the Derby and our focus is on the Preakness, not the Triple Crown," Walden said. "It is the right thing for Quip to run in the Preakness. Quip is a really good horse. I don't think that on his best day he's as good as Justify but what if something goes wrong? If Quip wins, we have a Preakness winner and another stallion in the barn."

Starlight Racing managing partner and CEO Jack Wolf and Head of Plains majority owner Sol Kumin, who do not have a stake in Quip, echoed Walden's comments about giving the son of Distorted Humor  the opportunity to race this week in Maryland.

"I think if the owners believe Quip is good enough to run in the Preakness, then it would not be fair to stop him from running," Wolf said.

An elephant in the room remains. What happens if Justify wins the Preakness? Would the four owners even consider sending out Audible in the Belmont with a Triple Crown at stake?

"I won't answer that question now," Walden said before chuckling over the situation.

Wolf was philosophical and did not immediately rule it out.

"I would not be opposed to running both horses in the Belmont, but it's not just my decision," he said. "We all have to talk about it and I understand how things can change when the Triple Crown is on the line."

For his part, Kumin said he would be "very surprised" if Justify and Audible square off in the Belmont with a Triple Crown hanging in the balance.

"If Justify can win the Preakness, I would be very surprised if Audible ran in the Belmont," said Kumin, who also owns a share of My Boy Jack, who was fifth in the Derby and is a candidate for either the Belmont Stakes or Belmont Derby (G1T). "It's our horse and you have to do what's in everyone's best interests. It's a long year with a lot of other big races for a horse as good as Audible. Maybe they can meet again in the Travers Stakes (G1). We'll see how it all works out."

Realistically, given what would be at stake, there's little ammunition to question the partners' decision if they keep Audible out of the Belmont, provided Justify wins the Preakness. Turcotte, who has experience in the matter, certainly would not disagree with them.

"If I was the owner, I wouldn't run another of my horses against Justify, even if he came out of the Derby with a bruised foot," Turcotte said last week. "As a jockey, you open your mouth, say what you think, and then drop it. But I can understand why an owner would not run against their own horse when the Triple Crown is in the picture."

Not only can he understand it, Turcotte lived through it at the Preakness 46 years ago.