Gil Moutray's passion for Thoroughbreds dates back decades to his childhood, although if his father had his way, things might have stopped there.
“My grandfather had 'sulky horses,' as we called them back in the old days, he loved horses,” said Moutray, a lifelong resident of Carlsbad, N.M. “My dad didn't really want me to know that because he'd heard so many stories of the downfalls of horse racing, but I always had a love for racing since I was a kid.”
By the time he was 22, Moutray had already found the winner's circle — at Sunland Park with an Oklahoma-bred named Sultan Jr. In the ensuing years, Moutray rose to prominence in the business world through banking, real estate, oil and gas, and pecan orchards. But racing remained an important part of his life, leading to a stint in the early 1990s as chairman of the New Mexico Racing Commission. He passed on his passion to others, including investment banker Gerald J. Ford, who would later win the Breeders' Cup Classic with Pleasantly Perfect.
When he liquidated his stable in the mid-90s, one thing Moutray hadn't achieved was competing at the highest levels of the sport. That's what would eventually lure him back to ownership and convert another friend to the business.
“My partner, Eddie Harrell, and I started Alto Racing in 2009,” Moutray said. “Eddie asked me if I'd like to do it one more time because I had gotten out, and I said I would but I have plenty of scrapbooks with claiming horses and allowance horses. But if we could create a stable of high-quality horses, I'd have an interest in taking a shot at it. So, in 2009, we created Alto Racing (named after a town in New Mexico).”
After getting hooked up with trainer Todd Pletcher, Alto's mission succeeded in early 2013 with the aptly named Winning Cause, who captured the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Although the colt had enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, Pletcher already had five starters lined up.
“I knew who the five were, and poor old Winning Cause, he had knocked himself out to win the Lexington and it would not have been the right thing to do to run him. He needed a rest.”
Moutray and his partner may get another shot at the big race this year, and rest should not be an issue. Alto owns Materiality, who will go to the post in Saturday's G1 Florida Derby. Through bloodstock agent Steve Young, Alto purchased the son of Afleet Alex at last year's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale for $400,000.
“He stuck out like a sore thumb to me,” said Young. “He's a horse that trained with sprinter's speed, with the action and a pedigree of a router.”
Materiality's half-sister out of the dam Wildwood Flower, My Miss Sophia, is a G2 winner who also finished second in last year's Kentucky Oaks to champion Untapable. Moutray knows he's taking on history with Materiality, who did not start as a 2-year-old. A horse without a juvenile start hasn't won the Derby since 1882.
“I've heard that all my life. I understand,” said Moutray. “We've been very cautious. We thought he was very special to begin with. We're not doing this just for the Kentucky Derby. We want to do the right thing for the horses. It's not an ego trip. If the horses take us there, so be it.”
Materiality didn't make his first start until Jan. 11 at Gulfstream, but it was an impressive debut as he ran off by 4 1/2 lengths. Stretching out from six furlongs all the way to 1 1/8 miles in his next start March 6, Materiality captured the Islamorada Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths under jockey John Velazquez, who will ride him again on Saturday.
If those first two races are any indication, Materiality may indeed take Moutray and his dream a long way.
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