A Tribute to Herb Moelis: Hooray for Hollywood

Herb Moelis

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In the early 1980s your correspondent had the great fortune of having been a guest lecturer at a series of background seminars developed and hosted by Bradley Telias at the sometimes too precious New School in New York City's West Village. There were basically a couple of dozen people at each two-hour meeting, mostly people either wanting to get into Thoroughbred racing and breeding, or some who were already in the game but were eager to expand their knowledge.

The first year's class included Vivien G. Malloy, who became a close friend and client and went on to become New York's Breeder of the Year twice. She is still quite active at age 90 and has been Secretary/Treasurer of New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc., for many years.

The second year's class was attended by two members of a newly formed racing partnership who met in that endeavor and were ready to go on their own–after they would take their wedding vows. They were successful CPA and entrepreneur Herbert Moelis and real estate executive Ellen Avenna–a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn and a strikingly lovely and elegant Italian lady from Queens. Welcome to New York!

Somehow the three of us managed to stay in touch and a few months later Herb and Ellen were seated behind me at a seminar sponsored by the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C., an event at which I'd been invited to address the topic of investing in limited partnerships and over-the-counter Thoroughbred racing and breeding endeavors. After a presentation in which I noted my deep skepticism about investing in public stocks unless they were very tightly drawn, I returned to my seat and Herb had this big grin on his face.

“That will shake a few people up, good luck!”

The editor of an industry magazine loved it, and asked permission to published it–after which I was fired as public relations consultant to a small Wall Street firm that was planning to issue stock in one of those new over-the-counter type companies.

Obviously, Herb had a point.

Many people in the industry soon came to know that when Herb Moelis spoke the truth, which was always, he was right. He and Ellen were in the process of developing their Candy Land Farm in Delaware and along the way they asked for my advice on their breeding plans. One of my recommendations was noted in the Oct. 11 edition of TDN is T.D. Thornton's strikingly perfect notice of Herb's passing last weekend in which Candy Land's longtime manager Mike Palmer gave a wonderfully detailed and accurate overall picture of Herb.

That was the recommendation that they claim a filly from the family of La Troienne for $20,000. When it came time to purchase a season for her to be bred in Herb and Ellen told me they wanted to go commercial and hoped to find a stallion that would get the foal into the 1993 Saratoga Yearling Sale.

“I'm looking to spend $50,000 on a stud fee,” he said to me, “which one do you recommend?”

I lifted my jaw off the ground and told him that at the most a foal might bring $125,000 at Saratoga and that he should look at a new “sleeper” stallion for a lot less money.

In the end they took my recommendation of Houston, a son of Seattle Slew who entered stud at $5,000–and the resulting foal topped the Saratoga sale in 1993 at $335,000. Herb and Ellen commissioned Anthony Alonso to paint the scene in the pavilion when the colt was hammered down with Herb and Ellen clearly visible at the left and surprise, yours truly clearly visible in the center. As a “thank you,” they had Anthony send me a copy, which has a pride of place in our apartment gallery.

By that time Herby and Ellen had formed Thoroughbred Charities of America in 1990, the history of which was nicely reported in T.D. Thornton's article but for these purposes needs more detail (go to https://www.tca.org/about/ and scroll down to History). By that time my wife and I had been invited to spend a weekend a year at Candy Land, and we were there when the first auction was held in 1990.

When they decided to move the event to a heated tent venue on the farm each January, I was stunned and honored when Herb and Ellen asked me to be the Master of Ceremonies, an honor I enjoyed for at least a dozen years.

Along the way I called him one day to discuss the upcoming party and he was in a hurry to get to the airport. I asked him where he was going, and he said California. I was surprised because he'd never mentioned such a trip before, so I pursued.

“Where in California?”

“Beverly Hills.”

“Really? Why?”

“My son is a financial guru and lives there.:

Because he knew by then how my brain worked, he just laughed when I said:

“Alright, you are now officially Hollywood Herb.:

Subsequently whenever we ran across each other at sales or other events, all I had to say was “Hello, Hollywood!” and he and Ellen would just beam.

Thus, with apologies to composer Richard A. Whiting who wrote the song for the 1937 movie Hollywood Hotel, I think anyone who's life was touched by Herb Moelis would gladly join in for a chorus of his wildly popular and widely used song, “Hooray for Hollywood.”

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