THE MEN BEHIND OXBOW, A CAST OF CHARACTERS FOR THE AGES

The 2013 Preakness Stakes was won by a 15-1 longshot, owned by an extremely low-profile college-dropout billionaire–who now has disdain for the industry that made him rich–conditioned by the second-oldest winning trainer in Preakness history, and ridden by a half-century-old jockey coming off a seven-year retirement.

Brad Kelley, Oxbow’s 56-year-old Nashville, Tennessee-based owner, was nowhere to be seen at Pimlico, just as he wasn’t when one of his horses won a Breeders’ Cup race last November. This is unsurprising, as Mr. Kelley is a semi-recluse, who reportedly has no public email address and rarely returns phone calls.

Mr. Kelley is the fourth-largest American land owner, and his vast holdings include the famed Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. He is a staunch conservationist and protector/owner of exotic animals. Mr. Kelley grew up on a farm in Franklin, Kentucky, and attended nearby Western Kentucky University, which he dropped out of four times and never graduated.

Mr. Kelley made his fortune in manufacturing and selling discount private-brand cigarettes. By happenstance, while in another business, he came across and acquired a cigarette-making machine that was going to be thrown out. This was the beginning of Commonwealth Brands, a company he sold for $1 billion in 2001. Since then, Mr. Kelley has had a change of mind and is strongly opposed to smoking.

D. Wayne Lukas, Oxbow’s Hall of Fame trainer and onetime basketball coach, has now won six Preakness Stakes, which puts him one behind trainer Robert Wyndham Walden (1843-1905). Mr. Lukas last won a Triple Crown race in 2000, the Belmont Stakes. As the years went by, some pundits said or whispered that “Coach” was done as a top-notch trainer.

The 77-year-old Mr. Lukas is the second-oldest trainer to win the Preakness, behind Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (1874-1966). Mr. Fitzsimmons was nearly 83 in 1957 when he trained Bold Ruler to win the race. Bold Ruler was owned by Mrs. Gladys Phipps, the grandmother of Ogden Mills Phipps and Stuart Janney III, Orb’s co-owners.

Ironically, Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey, and the Phipps family were deprived of a Preakness win in 1989 by the third-oldest winning trainer of the race, the-then 76 year-old Charlie Whittingham. Mr. Whittingham sent out Sunday Silence to defeat the Phipps Stable-owned and McGaughey-trained Easy Goer, in what may be the most thrilling Preakness of all time.

Gary Stevens, Oxbow’s 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, came out of a seven-year retirement in January 2013. Mr. Lukas told Mr. Stevens soon afterwards that he had a promising 3-year-old for the jockey to ride. Oxbow was the third Preakness winner for Mr. Stevens, and he also has three wins each in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. His first Triple Crown win was in 1988 on the Lukas-trained filly Winning Colors in the Derby.

When future generations hear oldtimers speak of the 2013 Preakness, the victorious cast of characters will make for a story better than fiction.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business

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