Triple Crown Connection -July 2018
by: Dean Geddes
When Justify came barreling around the final turn at the Belmont Stakes with the lead, just a few hundred yards from immortality, Sol Kumin had a different feeling than usual. Normally one to jump up and down and scream with joy when a horse he owns wins, Kumin realized the gravity of the moment.
Justify was about to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in history, and only the third to accomplish horseracing’s ultimate feat since 1978.
“I was nervous, but I got emotional, which was surprising,” the island summer resident said. “When he was crossing the (finish) line, I started to tear up. I was with my kids so I held it together. My daughter was on my lap, my boys were next to me and I didn’t even scream, I just hugged them all.”
Kumin’s ownership group Head of Plains Partners purchased a 15 percent ownership stake in Justify this winter, when the thought of competing for the Triple Crown was a pipe dream.
Having never raced as a 2-year-old, Justify was green. But after winning two qualifying races with ease, Justify turned heads when he won his third race in as many tries: the Santa Anita Derby in early April. It was a Grade 1 stakes race, the major leagues of horseracing, and it earned him just enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
“If he missed one race, one week of training, he doesn’t go to the Derby, and eventually win,” Kumin said. “One out of the 20 horses in the Derby every year gets a fever (and can’t race). So to win these races, everything has to go well. They have to ship right, they have to eat right, they have to have no fever, no bumps or bruises, and then they have to fire three times at three different distances in three different cities in a short period of time. That’s why it’s so hard.”
Once he got his ticket to the dance, Justify made the most of the opportunity. At the Kentucky Derby, he jumped out to the front of the field, opening up a lead and pulling away down the stretch. Two weeks later, in the rain and fog at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Justify completed the second leg of the Triple Crown, holding off a late charge to win by half a length. And in mid-June, in Queens, N.Y., he did what just 12 horses before him have done. He captured the Triple Crown by leading wire-to-wire and holding off Gronkowski to win the Belmont Stakes.
Having only been involved in horseracing for the last five years, it’s been a wild ride for Kumin, a 43year-old investment manager. The CEO of Folger Hill Asset Management has taken a different approach to horse ownership that echoes his background in financial trading.
Through six partnerships, Kumin owns a varying percentage of about 100 horses, from 100 percent to as little as 15 percent, and the average comes out to right around 50 percent. It allows him to not only mitigate the risk, but also provides more opportunities to find that home-run horse. “That 15 percent is Justify because that’s all we could get,” Kumin said. “We knew he was a freak and got what we could.” Usually, however, Kumin’s partnerships buy a third to half an ownership stake in a horse.
“When we started doing it, about four years ago, the traditional way was in general you owned all of the horse,” Kumin said.
“If you looked at who won the Kentucky Derby five years ago and before, it was maybe two names on the horse. We did a lot of research in the beginning and we just found that if we bought horses a little later in their career, when we had a little bit more data, we might have a higher probability of success. And it’s been really good for us.”
The weekend of the Kentucky Derby was a really good one for Kumin. Not only did
Justify win the Derby, but Kumin also had an ownership stake in the third-place (Audible) and fifth-place (My Boy Jack) finishers. He was especially proud of My Boy Jack, which he purchased for just $20,000, making him the least expensive horse in the Derby. The previous day, Kumin’s horse Monomoy Girl won the Kentucky Oaks, making him the first owner to win the Oaks and the Derby in the same year since 1952.
“Winning Oaks with that crew felt almost as good if not better than winning the Derby, which is kind of a strange thing to say,” Kumin said. “We owned a larger percent (of the horse), that’s part of it, but we named her as a baby, owned her every race. We were really the first people to believe in her. When you have a great horse, it just touches a lot of people along the way.”
The Triple Crown is undoubtedly the crowning achievement of Kumin’s young career, but he was already very familiar with the winner’s circle. In 2015 he won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, England’s biggest race, with Undrafted, a horse he owned with former New England Patriot Wes Welker.
Last year, horses he owned won both the Arlington Million and Beverly D. Stakes race on the same day at Arlington International Racecourse in Chicago. He also won Dubai’s most prestigious horse race, the Golden Shaheen, earlier this year. In total he has had an ownership stake in horses that have won 33 Grade 1 stakes races in the last three and a half years.
“It has to be the most in that period of time,” Kumin said. “I would be shocked if anyone was even at half that number. There’s definitely some luck there but we also made some smart choices and thought a little outside the box.
“People would sometimes criticize our approach. They wouldn’t be critical of Monomoy Girl or My Boy Jack or Lady Eli because we bought them as babies. But they might be critical of buying Justify after he raced once. My take is, to go to an auction and raise your hand, it’s just money, meaning anyone can do it. To go into business with someone, to have a partner, find a fair value and be a good partner, frankly it’s more work.”
So far, Kumin has created six horseracing partnerships, each named after a location on Nantucket. Mostly the groups consist of just a handful of his friends. He also hired horseracing expert Brad Weisbord, the founder of BSW Bloodstock, to advise him on horses as well as manage the day-to-day operations. Two of his main partners, Jim Pallotta and Jim Carey, are also seasonal Nantucket residents.
“It’s a group of us, but we all have other jobs. Whenever we start a new partnership, we always name it after a place on Nantucket, because for the majority of us, that’s our favorite place in the world. I’ve had a house out here for 10 years. It’s my favorite place on Earth, my kids’ favorite place on Earth. I get out here any minute I can,” Kumin said.
Kumin’s foray into horseracing began five years ago on Nantucket when he struck up a conversation with his friend Jay Hanley. The island contractor was building a house in Madaket for Kumin, and having just gotten into horse ownership himself, he thought it was right up Kumin’s alley.
“He approached me one day and said ‘look, I think you’ll really love this. It’s has all the elements you love, the deal-making, the competitiveness, and it’s a lot of fun for the kids, too.’ We put a small group together and bought a handful of horses and got Lady Eli.”
Lady Eli was the original success story that took Kumin and Hanley from outsiders to players on the main stage.
“That really kind of triggered everything. We went on a journey with a spectacular horse and we learned a lot from it,” Kumin said.
After winning the Breeders Cup in 2014 by sixth lengths, Lady Eli was considered the top 3year-old filly in the world. But after a win in the
2015 Belmont Oaks, Lady Eli stepped on a nail and developed laminitis. Not only was her racing career in jeopardy, but so was her life. Eventually she made a slow but complete recovery, returning to racing in 2016, before retiring the next year.
The first two partnerships Kumin started were Nantucket Thoroughbred Partners, with Hanley; and then Sheep Pond Partners. Then he added Madaket Partners and Head of Plains Partners. Since then, Kumin has also started Great Point Partners and Monomoy Stables.
While Kumin isn’t planning to change career
paths any time soon, horseracing does take a chunk of his time, about 10 hours a week, he estimates. He has, however, found an interesting way to fit it into his schedule.
“I gave up golfing. I used to play twice a week, now I play, well pretty much never,” he said.///
Dean Geddes is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821, and a regular contributor to Nantucket Today.