The winner's circle after Saturday's GI Belmont S. surely rivaled any in Triple Crown history in terms of population after Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo) crossed the wire three lengths to the good. In addition to Mike Repole and his substantial crew of family and friends, the celebration contained the massive partnership of Donegal Racing, which brings all of its investors along for the ride with every horse it purchases. Tuesday, the CEO of Donegal, Jerry Crawford, sat down with Joe Bianca and Bill Finley of the TDN Writers' Room presented by Keeneland as the Green Group Guest of the Week to discuss the experience of sharing the Belmont triumph with so many people, how he uses algorithms to shop the sales, Donegal's new initiative to give their winning jockeys future stallion shares and more.
“When we had about 350 people at the Kentucky Derby, I had about had enough of the phone calls saying, 'Hey Jerry, can we get two double beds in our hotel room instead of one king bed?'” Crawford joked. “But I wouldn't trade it for anything. We had over 200 people at the Belmont, I think Mike had 80-something. He's been giving me a hard time, saying he never thought he'd be partners with somebody who brought more people to the races than he did. But the key thing about everybody owning part of every horse is that nobody ever gets disappointed–if we have a big horse in any year, nobody gets left out or feels like they bought the wrong horse.”
Asked about the background of the algorithm that guides him to buy particular sale horses, Crawford said the formula–and Donegal itself–was borne out of frustrations in trying to handicap, not win, the Kentucky Derby.
“About 2003 or so, my son Connor and I were talking about why we always get our asses kicked betting the Derby,” he said. “It seemed like one longshot after another would come along and we would be out of it. So we decided to try and find an algorithm that would help us pick a Derby winner. This is way before Donegal. What we discovered is that we couldn't find an algorithm to pick a winner, we were only able to pick horses that could not win under our algorithm. So I said to my very patient wife Linda, 'I'm going to take $250,000 to Lexington to the [Keeneland September] yearling sale and buy a horse that fits our algorithm', and she was cool with it. This was in 2008, when the stock market crashed, and when the stock market crashes, people stop buying boats and diamonds and racehorses and the rest. I ended up buying eight horses for $405,000 because of the market. One of those horses was eventual stakes winner Paddy O'Prado, who finished third in the Derby and fit our algorithm to a tee. So we proceeded from there. I did worry flying home from that sale that there was going to be hell to pay when I told my wife I bought eight horses, not one, but we got through that, and it's been good since.”
Crawford and Donegal had a unique experience this spring, winning the Belmont and also having a deep connection to the Derby winner. Keen Ice scored the most significant victory of the Donegal partnership's lifetime when upsetting Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 GI Travers S. Retired to stud for 2018, the multimillionaire son of Curlin has had mixed early results, but will forever be the sire of a Derby champion after 80-1 Rich Strike upset the Run for the Roses. Crawford was asked if he felt pride in that, even as Mo Donegal ran fifth with a tough trip that day.
“You use the right word, we were very, very proud to have been the people who picked out Keen Ice at the yearling sale,” he said. “Fortunately we weren't second [with Mo Donegal], so I'm glad [Rich Strike] won because it certainly flatters Keen Ice, who was a very special horse. It was a stunning victory when he beat American Pharoah up at Saratoga. I always stop to thank the Zayats in any conversation like this, because they were true sportspeople in running American Pharoah that day. They didn't have to do that. But by being sporting and putting the horse in the race, it gave us a chance for one of the biggest days in the history of horse racing.”
Elsewhere on the show, which is also sponsored by Coolmore, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, XBTV, West Point Thoroughbreds and Legacy Bloodstock, the writers reacted to all the action from Belmont weekend and analyzed the implications of the Texas Racing Commission killing its simulcasting signals as a way to avoid the purview of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. Click here to watch the show; click here for the audio-only version or find it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.