‘Go on their gut’
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.”