To understand Michael Dubb is to go far beyond his stature as the preeminent owner on the rugged New York circuit.
His greatest satisfaction has nothing to do with the 78 wins last season that secured his third consecutive New York Racing Association owner's title and fifth in seven years. It has everything to do with his impact on backstretch workers and their families.
“The people who take care of the horses, they get up at five o'clock every morning. They have hard lives. Nobody pays attention to them,” Dubb said. “They deserve a decent place for their kids and they deserve a decent place to sleep. That is our obligation.”
He could not take that obligation more seriously. After he learned some children of backstretch workers were seen sleeping in cars at Belmont Park in the early morning hours, he responded by having his company, the Beechwood Organization, build an on-site day care center in 2002 that came to be known as Anna House.
Dubb says of his involvement as chairman of the Belmont Child Care Association, “This is a gift that keeps on giving because I come here and the kids are just tremendous. I come here and I get big hugs and kisses.”
Anna House remains open throughout the year. Children receive an early education that can prove to be invaluable. Many of them speak primarily Spanish when they are enrolled. They are invariably fluent in English when they graduate.
Dubb's commitment to grooms and hotwalkers does not end there. As a New York Racing Association board member, he has been a strident voice in expressing the need to provide them with better housing. He recently oversaw construction of a three-floor, 47-unit dormitory at Belmont Park. He has been responsible for refurbishing many other units at Belmont and Saratoga Race Course.
“I have a lot more respect for the people who work on the backside,” he said, “than I do for a lot of the arrogant owners.”
Despite his success, or perhaps because of it, some counterparts do not view him as a gentle man with a big heart. They quietly criticize him for his involvement with controversial trainers Rick Dutrow Jr. and Rudy Rodriguez.
Dutrow had his license revoked for at least 10 years in 2011 after racing authorities found him guilty of numerous transgressions. Dubb's association with Rodriguez, who had a series of positive tests for the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Banamine in 2013, has been integral to his success.
Dubb, 60, vigorously defends his integrity.
“If I thought for a second a trainer was taking an edge,” he said, “I would be out of there faster than lightning.”
Although he severed ties with Dutrow well before the trainer's suspension, he said of that separation, “I just didn't want to be involved in the controversy.”
Dubb called Dutrow a “phenomenal” horseman and added, “I still don't believe he was a quote unquote cheater the way the public perceives him.”
Those Banamine overages found in Rodriguez's horses?
“I'm not diminishing that,” he said. “I think it was growing pains. I think he found he could train without Banamine, period.”
Dubb emphasizes that his success with Rodriguez and other trainers stems from hard work and the ability to spot what others might have missed. He makes sure to stay heavily involved with a stable that numbers approximately 100 horses worth an estimated $4 million to $5 million.
Rodriguez, for instance, claimed Royal Posse for $20,000 in May 2015. Royal Posse successfully defended his title in the $200,000 Claiming Crown Jewel in December.
“I really claim horses – and I claim a lot of them – with the hope that every once in awhile, I can claim one that can move on and do great things,” Dubb said. “The rest are just going to cycle through the barn. Either I'll win a few races and lose them or I won't win a few races and lose a few dollars and drop them down.”
Rodriguez, an ex-jockey who was an understudy to the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel and Dutrow, could not feel more indebted to Dubb for keeping faith in him.
“It means the world to us. We had some positives with Banamine and if it wasn't for him, we'd be out of the game,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of people didn't want to hear how the horses came up positive.”
Rodriguez attributes Dubb's handiwork in the claiming game, the foundation for the owner's success, to his aggressiveness at the claiming box and in his placement of horses. “He doesn't hesitate. He takes chances,” Rodriguez said.
Dubb acquired his business acumen without the benefit of college. He built a landscaping business while he was in high school and never looked back. His Beechwood Organization has built approximately 8,000 homes.
Dubb's racing operation grew rapidly after he entered the game in 2001.
“If you want to know why I am successful,” he said, “I will tell you it's because of diversification and self-control.”
Of the 100 or so horses he owns, most in partnerships, he estimates that 30 are claimers, 10 are stakes horses and another 10 belong in the allowance ranks. Newly-minted 2-year-olds and turned-out horses comprise his remaining holdings. No matter how he acquires horses, he does everything possible to limit each transaction to $100,000. He is not involved in breeding.
“He's willing to play at every level and he knows where to put a horse to win,” said Sol Kumin, who partnered with Dubb when Wavell Avenue gave Dubb his first Breeders' Cup victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint in 2015.
“I absolutely aspire to race at the highest levels. I just don't chase it,” Dubb said. “In other words, I don't go to the sale and buy the obvious horse. I'd rather buy the unobvious horse.”
He finds winning sweet at any level. But nothing matches the joy of seeing a smile light up the face of a child at Anna House.
Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.
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