By Chris McGrath
He stood by the elevator, at the base of the grandstand at Hollywood Park, and waited. Passing friends asked him what the hell he was doing, hanging around for hours in a suit, instead of the usual jeans and polo shirt. Next day, Sunday, he was back in position; and again the following weekend, and every weekend afterwards, until most people would have long abandoned the siege. Until, at last, the elevator opened and there he was: John C. Mabee.
“Mr. Mabee, my name is Randy Lowe,” he said. “You don't know me, but could I invest this in your company?”
Mabee opened the envelope and found a check for $100,000. Still plenty of money today, and this was 1986. Mabee looked at Lowe.
“Is this real?” he asked. “Where did this come from?”
So Lowe told him. He had always played the Pick 6. It was the only bet, he felt, that might change your life if you could actually hit one time. A few weeks previously, he had gone to Santa Anita with $120 in his pocket. It was as much as he could scrape together, as an insurance agent wearily accustomed to doors closing on his pitch. He staked $96 on his Pick 6. Add the price of his seat, something to eat, there wouldn't be much left. He was 29 years old, struggling to pay his bills, going nowhere.
Almost everybody was out after the first leg, a 35-to-one blowout. A professional gambler heard that Lowe was still in, asked to see the remaining lines, and offered $10,000 for his ticket. Lowe held his nerve and, though three of the next four legs were also won by outsiders, was still clinging to a live bet come the final leg. He had four shots.
It wasn't a typical Santa Anita day at all, and he peered down the track into a cold fog. “I was sitting there all by myself, nervous as nervous could be,” Lowe recalls. “It was a six-furlong sprint. As soon as the race started, I was yelling. Turning in, there were five horses across the track, and only one I didn't have. I remember looking up and saying, 'Please God, please don't let that horse beat me.' We ended up running one, two, three, four.”
The tension didn't end there, though. How many others could possibly be left standing? This really could change his life. Then the voice of track announcer Trevor Denman.
“Ladies and gentlemen, one ticket wins the Pick 6 today.”
Lowe rushed downstairs to the phone booth, which had to be unlocked by request, and called home.
His father could hear Lowe panting. “What's wrong?”
“I just won the Pick 6.”
“Well, what did it pay?”
“I don't know what to do. Do I take it in cash or what?”
After the IRS took their share, Lowe asked for $100,000 as a check and the rest in bills. For a couple of months, he carried that check around with him. He'd take it out and stare at it, asked banks about interest rates. Then he heard that Mabee, doyen of Californian racing, was starting up an insurance division. So Lowe took up his post by the elevator and waited.
Mabee heard him out, shook his head, and gave Lowe his check.
“I don't have partners,” he said.
But then he added that if Lowe believed in him, to quite that extent, then he should make an appointment at his head office in San Diego and they could see whether there might be a vacancy for him somewhere.
A week later Lowe drove down the coast, checked into a hotel and presented himself at Mabee's office.
“And where does he take me for this interview?” he says, grinning. “Del Mar racetrack.”
Mabee had a couple of runners on the card. The first would win, he declared, proposing a $1,000 exacta with the three horse.
“Okay,” Lowe said. “But you're going to lose your money. The one is going to finish second.”
And that's just how it played out. Next race, Mabee was betting the four horse.
“Again, you're going to lose your money,” Lowe said. “The nine will win.”
Sure enough, Lowe was right again. Long story short, he put Mabee on six consecutive winners and a couple of exactas into the bargain. Mabee looked at the young man in bewilderment. “If you can sell insurance as well as you pick racehorses,” he said, “we can go very far.”
Before long, Lowe was getting calls from his workaholic boss at 5 a.m. asking for counsel not just in handicapping but in placing his horses. Gradually he became a fixture in Mabee's entourage. At the time, remember, his boss was on the board of the Breeders' Cup, chairman at Del Mar, and building up the Big Bear Markets grocery chain.
“John was a very honest, stand-up kind of guy,” Lowe recalls. “He wasn't the kind anyone could push around, but he was very fair. He demanded that things be done in the right way. He used to tell me that meetings were for people who like to waste time. If you had an idea, you should just go ahead and do it.
“And it was a friendship that really blossomed. I just couldn't believe that a man of his importance and stature would take an interest in somebody who really didn't have much of anything. A lot of the times, I couldn't afford where they were staying. So, I'd try to find a cheaper hotel and John would say, 'Nonsense!' And he'd get me a room. He made me feel like part of the family. And, you know, that rubbed some people the wrong way… I mean, I'm a Chinese guy. I used to stand in the back of pictures. But John would say, 'What you doing back there? You come down here and stand right near me.'”
Before long, anyone seeking insurance from Mabee's company in Los Angeles was being referred to Randall E. Lowe. He would be taken into even the biggest meetings: with Bob Lewis, or Saudi princes. Mabee's former partner in the Los Angeles Chargers, Barron Hilton, kept calling him Mr. Lowe. “No, sir,” he would say. “Please, just 'Randy'!”
Lowe's first venture into racehorse ownership had been, let's say, enterprising. Having identified a potential claim, he approached his uncle: “I got two-thirds of what I need, can you loan me the rest?” Then he went to his father, and said: “Dad, I got two-thirds of the money, can you lend me the rest?” Finally, he went to his mother–his parents had divorced–and you know what he said. That horse won a couple of races, and Lowe did even better with one claimed from Mabee himself, winning seven in a row. And meanwhile he has honed that freakish acuity as a handicapper, winning the Pick 6 201 times since that fateful day in 1986.
Obviously, we can't expect Lowe to share the secret. “But I have been handicapping ever since I was seven years old,” he says. “My dad used to stare at the Racing Form, spread on the dining room table, and I'd look from the other side and ask questions. He would tell me what he knew, my uncle would tell me what he knew, my cousin the same. And I started reading books and gradually put the whole thing together, my own formula.”
Soon after Lowe entered Mabee's life, so did Best Pal–the best horse ever raced by his Golden Eagle Farm, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and winner of such iconic West Coast prizes as the Hollywood Gold Cup and Santa Anita Handicap. And fate decreed that many years later Lowe would honor his mentor by naming a horse for a combination of the stable (Golden) and its champion (Pal).
This chapter of Lowe's remarkable story traces to a Barretts sale in the fall of 2005. Mabee had died three years earlier, and Lowe had just broken up with a girlfriend. Seated today alongside his wife Brenda, he laughs at the memory. “You can print this if you want,” he says. “I said, 'The heck with these women, I'm just going to own racehorses instead!' And that's why I went to the auction.”
By that stage, having done so himself, Lowe had resolved to move his horses up in the world. There had been good claims, bad claims, plenty in between. But he figured that if ever he was going to find a Best Pal, he would have to change tack. So at the Pomona auction he bought a $28,000 weanling filly by Mutakddim (a son of Seeking The Gold who had raced in Europe) from the estate of Leon Rasmussen, the dosage theorist.
Lowe named her Sumthingtottalkabt and she won five for Wally Dollase, just falling short at stakes level but often melting the clock, both mornings and afternoons. Lowe decided she had enough speed to try his hand at breeding, and paired her with Midshipman.
The result was Lady Shipman, who missed by a neck in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint of 2015, but racked up 11 stakes and over $900,000. Her very first foal, by Uncle Mo, is Golden Pal, now limbering up for a Breeders' Cup treble after brilliantly avenging his dam's defeat in the equivalent race last year, having already won the GII Juvenile Turf Sprint in 2020. And, throughout, it has almost felt as though somebody up there is taking a benign interest.
Lady Shipman herself, for instance, fell well short of her reserve in a 2-year-old sale. She had worked nine-and-four, no medication and no whip, and Lowe wanted $210,000. She was led out at just $35,000. In turn, moreover, Lowe thought so much of Golden Pal as a yearling that he raised the bar higher yet at the September Sale. This time, however, bidding stalled at $325,000.
With Lady Shipman, people had more or less mocked him to his face. “You don't have any money,” they said. “And yet you're sitting there holding out for what you think is 'fair'!”
“Well, I didn't want people to take advantage of me,” he recalls with a shrug. “So I didn't sell her. And with Golden Pal, I told all these different trainers what the horse would be. And nobody believed me.”
The unchecked box against the colt had been sesamoiditis, but Coolmore remained interested. Lowe was so confident that he gave them 60 days to see how the horse came along. After what he recalls with a grin as “59 days and 23 hours”, the colt was returned. Okay, no problem, Lowe would send him to Wesley Ward. He had seen how the trainer adored the colt at the sale, but couldn't find a buyer.
Soon Golden Pal was showing so much speed that Lowe found himself turning down multiples of his sale reserve until, after that first Breeders' Cup, yielding to a renewed offer from a Coolmore partnership.
Now Lowe is once again showing his faith in Lady Shipman, her Omaha Beach colt another RNA in the same ring last week at $385,000. Lowe is undaunted. Eventually, people have always had to come round. “This was my fourth time trying to sell a horse,” he says. “And this time I didn't even try to talk anybody into buying him. But I'm telling you now: this horse is very, very fast. I'll just race him myself and I'll show everybody. I'll win the Breeders' Cup with him, too!”
Despite producing a champion at the first attempt, Lady Shipman has certainly charted the full spectrum of this business, having meanwhile lost both her next two foals. But Lowe is ecstatic with Golden Pal's weanling full-sister, Luvwhatyoudo; while she's now in foal to Essential Quality.
Whatever happens from here, it has already been a remarkable odyssey. When Golden Pal won his first Breeders' Cup in the silks of Ranlo Investments LLC, few realized that this was one guy with one horse. Sure, Lowe has had plenty of other horses over the past 38 years; and right now, indeed, has an interest in five. But he still watches the big names spending the big money, and wonders how many of them will ever find a horse this fast.
He hopes that the friends who bought Golden Pal will prioritize a third Breeders' Cup, but understands they have vast experience and a corresponding agenda. If they want to raise the bar by trying him on dirt–albeit the plan is apparently the GII Woodford S., on grass, on October 8–then he wishes them all possible luck.
After all, this is a man who got through college living off 50-cent enchiladas, twice a day, requesting extra chips and a glass of water. Somehow, from $20 a week, he needed to salvage something to take to the windows after getting into the racetrack for free before the last race.
“When Lady Shipman ran at the Breeders' Cup, we were in front one step before the wire and then her head came back,” he recalls. “One more half-step, we win the race. And then I probably would have sold her, and we wouldn't have had Golden Pal. Now all these different people are telling me to sell her. But every time I've ever been to see her, at all those different racetracks and now on the farm, she has come up and put her head on my shoulder, like she wants a hug. Every single time. And looks for her peppermints. So it would be very hard to sell. Sometimes there's more to life than just making money.
“It's impossible, what's happened. For a person who used to stand there at Hollywood Park, begging people as they're leaving the track, 'Excuse me, sir, could I have your Racing Form, your program?' It's taken a long time. It's almost like life is played like some kids' board game. You go this way, you go that way. All I know is that when I hoisted that Breeders' Cup trophy up in the air, I was thanking John Mabee.”
Lowe remembers seeing an old movie as a boy. About kids his own age: one was selling newspapers, one was shining shoes, that kind of thing. And they pooled their few cents and befriended a racetracker who would place their wagers. Every time, they lost. But then they won the big pool. Their friend got so excited that he had a heart attack, dropped to the floor.
“The kids are waiting for him outside,” Lowe recalls. “His car is still there. But he never comes out. And I always think that watching that movie, growing up, gave me inspiration. Because my motto has always been that if you believe in anything enough, and you want it bad enough, it will happen. You might not do it today. You might not do it tomorrow. But if you believe to the day you die, it will happen.”