‘Go on their gut’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

you’re in the Hall of Fame if you win 25 per­cent of the time, you can’t base it only on wins and losses. The in­tan­gi­bles have to be right. He wanted a bet­ter link back to the other busi­nesses, and he thought that with my ex­pe­ri­ence, I could pro­vide that.” ad­mired his brother’s bold­ness, and he no longer felt right squan­der­ing his days on a ca­reer he didn’t much like.

He had met Plank in 2007 at a thor­ough­bred sale at Keeneland. He e-mailed the Un­der Ar­mour CEO out of the blue, and they made plans to have din­ner in Wash­ing­ton. “What do you want to do?” Plank asked. “I have no idea, but I want to do some­thing I’m pas­sion­ate about,” Rankin replied.

What about a real es­tate com­pany that would have its hands in ev­ery­thing from Port Cov­ing­ton to a down­town ho­tel to a whiskey dis­tillery?

“That sounds re­ally fun,” Rankin thought.

He doesn’t be­lieve he would have suc­ceeded if he’d gone straight to the farm. He needed time to learn the cul­ture of Plank’s com­pa­nies and to earn the mogul’s faith. By the time he did re­turn to the rac­ing world in 2015, he was a more con­fi­dent fig­ure.

In his first move, he hired Stan Hough, a vet­eran trainer who had worked with his fa­ther, to buy horses and con­sult on the Sag­amore op­er­a­tion. They mapped out a con­sis­tent course all their year­lings would fol­low, from de­part­ing to be bro­ken at Ocala Stud in Septem­ber to re­turn­ing to Sag­amore in March of their 2-year-old years.

“Let’s make this a model. This is how we do things,” Rankin says. “You have to have a base­line of a pro­gram, and we didn’t re­ally have that be­fore.”

After Cor­reas departed, they fig­ured they’d send most of their top horses to out­side star train­ers such as Mo­tion, Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaugh­lin.

The 32-year-old De Paz grew up in Sny­der, an out-of-the way town of 11,000 where he learned to gal­lop horses in the sur­round­ing cot­ton fields.

He went to col­lege for a se­mes­ter but then packed it in when he was 19 to go ex­er­cise horses at Louisiana Downs, much to his par­ents’ hor­ror. When his mother saw his cramped liv­ing quar­ters at the track, she shook her head and asked, “What are you do­ing?”

But De Paz knew train­ing was the life for him.

“I’ve al­ways been drawn to horses,” he says. “Whether I could make money do­ing it or not make money, I would con­tinue just be­cause I en­joy the game so much.”

He ap­pren­ticed as an ex­er­cise rider for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and then for Pletcher. Beyond the les­sons he learned from them, Rankin and Hough noted his in­her­ent gifts.

“He has a great feel for when a horse is do­ing well or when a horse needs a lit­tle time,” Rankin says. “There’s cer­tain guys — you think about a Woody Stephens or Allen Jerkens, some of those greats — and that’s what they were so good at. Peo­ple try to make it sci­ence, and part of it is. But the great ones are able to go on their gut and their feel. Ho­ra­cio has a very good gut and very good feel.”

They built their re­vamped rac­ing pro­gram to be­gin in 2016, and with a solid class of 2-year-olds that in­cluded even­tual four­time win­ner Re­cruit­ing Ready, the re­sults were promis­ing.

This year has been even bet­ter, and Rankin and De Paz sound bullish about their cur­rent 2-year-olds, in­clud­ing He Hate Me, Barry Lee and the filly Southamp­ton Way, who have all bro­ken their maid­ens.

“You start to dream,” Rankin says. “Do I think we’re go­ing to be in the [Ken­tucky] Derby next year? I don’t know. But we’re go­ing to try our best.”

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