Jump Sucker Hoping For a Slam ‘Dunck’

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Steven Duncker | NYRA

By Christie DeBernardis

SARATOGA SPRINGS, New York–St. Louis native C. Steven Duncker went to the track for the first time with his best friend at just 13 years old and was immediately hooked. He bought his first racehorse just four years later, at age 17, and even owned a piece of champion Bates Motel, which he won in a backgammon game in his twenties.

Now 57 and a member of the NYRA Board, Duncker is living out his racing dreams along with his partners in Jump Sucker Stable–Kevin Warsh, George Walker and George Loening–who will be represented by Governor Malibu (Malibu Moon) in Saturday’s GI Travers S.

“I was a partner at Goldman Sachs, which is what brought me to New York and I got involved with NYRA,” Duncker said while sitting in his box in the Saratoga clubhouse. “I started coming up here to Saratoga when I was 18 and fell in love with it. When I started making a little money at Goldman, I got back into [owning horses]. I had eight or nine broodmares and 10 in training. When I got married, I slowed it down. In 2011, I started with Jump Sucker and it was just more fun. It’s much more fun having partners.”

Duncker’s partners in Jump Sucker–Walker, who was one of his partners at Goldman Sachs; Warsh, a federal reserve board governor who Duncker met at Saratoga; and Loening a friend of Walker’s–all came together due to their mutual love for the sport.

“They’ve always loved it, but they are new as owners,” the former NYRA chairman commented. “George Walker grew up in St. Louis, as I did. He grew up going to Fairmount Park too. They are all in New York and Kevin actually grew up 10 miles from here. His first job was selling programs at the track, so he’s got the bug bad. So, when they figured out the way to be an owner, it wasn’t that hard to sell [the idea of the partnership]. There has to be somebody there that at least has some experience with it and that is the role I provide. They are very passionate and great partners.”

The Palm Beach resident, who spends his summers with his wife and two children at their house in Saratoga, added, “George Walker and Kevin Warsh are both coming in on Saturday. Our other partner is taking his daughter to college. That is basically the only excuse we would accept for him not being here.”

Jump Sucker Stable currently has six horses in training, five of which are with Christophe Clement. The Frenchman trains GII Jim Dandy S. runner-up Governor Malibu, GSW Blacktype (Fr) (Dunkerque {Fr}), GSP Sea Coast (Ire) (Rock of Gibraltar {Ire}), the 2-year-old California Swing (Malibu Moon) and recent European import Moral High Ground (Ire) (Elnadim). The Carl Domino-trained Downgoesfrasier (Half Ours) completes the partners’ sextet of horses.

“I’ve known Christophe a long time,” Duncker remarked. “The man I was co-chair with at NYRA, Peter Karches, used him. I think he is sensational. I really do. He is great at all of it. He is a great communicator too. That’s an under-thought-about part of this. When you are an owner, you get happiness and fun out of being communicated with by your trainer and he is great at it. It makes it a lot of fun.”

Clement has picked out most of Jump Sucker Stable’s horses, including Governor Malibu, who they own in partnership with the colt’s breeder, Oak Bluff Stable.

“Most of the current horses we have Christophe has come to us and said, ‘What about this horse,’” Duncker said. “We have some other trainers too. By and large, the trainers come to us with ideas. We don’t say, ‘Here’s a certain amount of money. Go to the sale and buy three.’ In the case of Governor Malibu, it was an owner of Christophe’s that was selling him and [Clement] had trained the mare. He said, ‘I thought she was a good mare. You should buy this horse.’ Dick Leahy, the breeder, stayed in for a piece. He’s been a great partner. He’s a lot of fun to be around.”

Winner of the Gander S. for New York-breds Feb. 6, Governor Malibu crossed the wire first in Pimlico’s Federico Tesio S. Apr. 9, but was disqualified and placed second for interference. A good fourth behind Creator (Tapit) after a troubled trip in the GI Belmont S. June 11, the chestnut got the better of that rival when second to Laoban (Uncle Mo) in the GII Jim Dandy S. July 30.

“It’s been unbelievable, really,” Duncker enthused. “It was brutal in the Belmont. He got stopped twice, so hopefully we get a good trip Saturday. I have to give [Governor Malibu] credit because he stepped up in all those races. The Belmont he was 20-1 and in the Jim Dandy, he faced Mohaymen (Tapit), Creator, Destin (Giant’s Causeway). Those are some good horses he beat. Maybe we haven’t seen his best. Who knows?”

When asked what a Travers win would mean to him as a NYRA board member and longtime supporter of Saratoga, Duncker was immediately overwhelmed with emotion.

“When you put it like that, it’s pretty emotional,” he said after pausing a moment as the idea of possibly winning a Travers really sunk in. “It would be just unbelievable. It really would. It’s actually kind of hard to think about. Especially when you are chairman here, it’s a lot of work. It would be great. It woud all be rolled up into one–the fun of owning horses, the love of NYRA and the excitement of being here with my family and friends.”

 

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