The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Owner Jerry Crawford
Jerry Crawford is managing partner of two sports franchises: the Iowa Energy, season champions of the 2010-11 NBA Development League in professional basketball, and Donegal Racing, a partnership named for his ancestral home in Ireland that first made news in 2010 when Paddy O’Prado finished third in the Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. The son of El Prado won his only start of 2011, but suffered an injury in that race and was retired to Spendthrift Farm.
While many may view him as a “newcomer” to racing, Crawford, a native of Iowa and partner in the Crawford Mauro law firm, has owned a modest string of horses for over 20 years. He is also prominent in political circles, having chaired numerous Democratic Party presidential campaigns in Iowa.
Crawford is more concerned over the next three weeks with his Kentucky Derby candidate, Dullahan, who comes off a stretch-running victory over 2011 2-year-old champion Hansen in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
Back in February before Dullahan made his first start of 2012, you said you “wouldn’t trade places with anyone.” Still feel that way after his victory over Hansen?
I knew in February that Dullahan was a horse that was good enough to win the Derby and he was on target to peak on May 5. Dale Romans did a great job of being disciplined…and not asking too much from him too soon. May 5 will be his third start off the layoff and as you could see from his second start back (the Toyota Blue Grass) he is coming to hand nicely.
On the CNBC telecast, there was some concern about how jockey Kent Desormeaux pulled Dullahan up quickly after the finish of the Blue Grass. Is everything OK?
Kent wanted to pull him up quickly because Dullahan was trying to re-break. At that point it was all about conserving the horse. Dr. (John) Garrity pronounced him in perfect condition Sunday morning.
You’ve been down this path before with Paddy O’Prado, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby two years ago. What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
I know that as (basketball Hall of Famer) Al McGuire once said about the Final Four to “let someone else handle the tickets!” We will have six staff people this time (none last time) and expect over 500 hundred Iowans to be in attendance.
When was your first Thoroughbred ownership experience? How was it different than your current involvement?
My first involvement was a $2,500 claim at Ak-Sar-Ben. I had to have a 50% partner and had to borrow my half! The horse won three in a row. It was then I realized how smart I was. Except that it was followed by 20 years of mostly losing.
When did you form Donegal Racing?
We formed Donegal in 2008. As folks will remember the September sales were really off. I was able to buy eight colts I thought could go classic distances (which is our lone goal). I paid about what I expected to pay for two. I came home and said to my friends, “Hey, should we do a partnership?” They said yes and Derby Dreams was born. Our first purchases were three years old in 2010 and we have had five horses on the Derby Trail in three years.
What is the business model?
The business model is that we only do one partnership per year. We buy around seven or eight horses and every partner owns part of each horse. In this manner when we hit a big horse every single partner is involved. I have been in partnerships where the group has big horses but I missed them by being on the wrong horse. That doesn’t happen with us. We don’t mark the horses up nor do we charge a management fee. We take 20% ownership for selecting the horses and running the partnership but we pay our 20% of the expenses like everyone else.
Has the model changed or evolved since its formation?
The model hasn’t changed since we started. It ain’t broke so we won’t fix it!
You decided to get involved in industry leadership, one example being your election to the Breeders’ Cup board of directors. What was your interest in doing so?
I had a heart attack in 2008 – at the Kentucky Derby of all places. I decided in the aftermath that there were two things I wanted to do. I wanted to raise a lot of money for Macalester College (where I serve on the Board) and I wanted to leave horse racing better than I found it. This past December we concluded a fundraising campaign for Macalester they were kind enough to let me Chair. We raised over $156 million dollars (some of which came from Paddy O’Prado’s winnings!). And now I am privileged to serve as Vice-Chair of the Breeders’ Cup. By the time I leave that organization I hope to be able to say I have left horse racing better than I found it.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to the Breeders’ Cup?
We need to make the Breeders’ Cup the highest quality event (in racing and in enhanced experience) in horse racing. We need to make it a “must do” event that sells itself. Tom Ludt is doing a great job as our Chair in moving us through some growing pains. We WILL get this job done!
What about the biggest challenge to racing?
The biggest challenge is to build the next generation of leadership and followership for racing. We have some exceptional young leaders in our sport … names like Bret Jones, Case Clay, Jim Rome, Brad Weisbord, and Bobby Flay pop into my mind. With their leadership we can develop the fan base for the future.