Atlanta businessmen's horses to race in Kentucky Derby
By Amy Wenk – Staff Writer, Atlanta Business Chronicle
Atlanta has a horse in the race at the 145th Kentucky Derby, the longest-running sporting event in the country.
Well, two horses.
“It’s just a surreal time,” said Atlanta native and Georgia Tech grad Reeves of Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, a majority owner of Tax, one of 20 horses set to race. “I’m really excited to be going back.”
Reeves, chairman and co-owner of Reeves Young (an Atlanta construction company that’s worked on some of the city’s biggest projects including completing all the site work for Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the former Georgia Dome) had a horse named Mucho Macho Man place third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. He shared with Atlanta Business Chronicle the thrill of the race.
“You are pretty nervous all day long,” Reeves said. “You have people screaming for your horse. You look up as you walk on the track and there’s 165,000 people. It is mind boggling. You are just blown away just by how big the whole event is.”
This year, Reeves has invited Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and state Sen. Brandon Beach to cheer on Tax at the Kentucky Derby. “He can get the distance,” said Reeves, 67, who attended his first Kentucky Derby in the 1970s and for more than 20 years in a row. “I think we have a good shot. He’s a big, strong colt.”
Only three-year-old Thoroughbred horses can race in the Kentucky Derby, competing this year for a record $3 million prize. The race distance is one and one-quarter miles long. It’s often called “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” Each year, more than $200 million is wagered on all the races of the Kentucky Derby. The race is put on by Louisville, Ky.-based Churchill Downs Inc. (Nasdaq: CHDN).
Alexander, who bred contender Plus Que Parfait with his partner and long-time friend Clint Joiner, can hardly contain his excitement about having a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
Plus Que Parfait was just the third horse the pair, both 47 years old, foaled since launching Kentucky-based Calloway Stables.
“We will gladly play the role as the long shot,” said Joiner, who is based in Union City, Tenn., where both were raised. Alexander today handles business development for Atlanta-based Exploring Inc., a family of companies that builds events including working on this year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.
“By the numbers, we aren’t even supposed to have a horse in this race,” Joiner said. “But, anything can happen in a Derby.”
They said Plus Que Parfait took an usual path to the Kentucky Derby, winning the $2.5 million U.A.E. Derby in Dubai, which landed the horse enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
Plus Que Parfait, a French phrase that translates to “more than perfect,” now places fourth on the leader board rank. A win could be game-changing for Calloway Stables.
“It’s taken a lifetime to get here,” said Morningside resident Alexander, whose family bred Quarter Horses and Tennessee Walking Horses. “We realize it could be several lifetimes before it ever happens again. Every moment will be savored and appreciated.”
Reeves shared about the appeal of horse racing and the business opportunity.
“It is the only business I know of that a person can have their own sports franchise,” Reeves said. “Most people will never own a NFL franchise, nor a Major League Baseball franchise ... But in horse racing, anybody can buy a horse for $5,000 or $500,000. That horse can be a great horse. They come from anywhere.”
It’s not just a rich man’s sport, added Alexander and Joiner.
“There are so many levels that you can enter,” Alexander said, recommending a bloodstock agent for buying and selling horses. “The opportunity is there.”
Interestingly, Reeves and Alexander are both board members of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, an advocacy group trying to bring horse racing to the state.
“Economically, it’s a real boon for middle and south Georgia,” Reeves said. “We are just trying to get it to the ballot so the people of Georgia can vote on it.”
But, legalizing gambling, including casinos and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, again was a non-starter in the General Assembly this year.
In response, Senate backers created an 11-member study committee to meet this summer and fall to do a deep dive on the various ramifications of legalizing casinos and racetracks. The panel is due to report its findings by Dec. 1.
“It would be a fantastic thing for Georgia,” Alexander said, especially because of the state’s location between Lexington, Ky., and Ocala, Fla., where thoroughbred horses go back and forth to race and train. “It’s an unbelievable impact that these animals have ... This is the last frontier in America. It’s the largest metropolitan area in the United States without a track.”