When Paul Bulmahn sat down to a business lunch at Maker's Mark in May 2002, he had no idea how much the affair would change his life.
Bulmahn, who was being honored for his accomplishments at the helm of ATP Oil and Gas Company, found himself sitting next to an affable lunch companion, and the two men got to chatting.
It wasn't until the event was almost over that he realized he had been talking with Bill Samuels, CEO Emeritus of Maker's Mark. Samuels was responsible for drawing the name of an attendee to win a trip to the upcoming Kentucky Derby courtesy of Maker's Mark, and it just so happened that Bulmahn won the prize. The heart-pounding gate-to-wire performance of that year's winner, War Emblem, got Bulmahn to thinking about diving into racehorse ownership himself.
“There I was, sitting among Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas, and people who I had only seen on television,” he recalled. “It was just so much fun.”
With that, the dream of traveling to the Kentucky Derby as an owner was born.
Bulmahn connected with longtime horseman and trainer Todd Quast, and with the help of his engineer brother, scouted out the Florida property which eventually became Bulmahn's GoldMark Farm. The facility has 160 stalls, a training track, and a range of physical therapies for both GoldMark and client horses. The property is particularly special to Bulmahn because he cherishes the time spent building the farm with his brother, who later succumbed to lung cancer.
The combination of an experienced staff and extensive facilities have resulted in a strong stable. GoldMark's first Kentucky Derby runner, Backtalk, finished 20th in the 2010 edition of the race.
This year, Bulmahn feels he has a shot at a stronger finish with Mylute, a $150,000 purchase from the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale. The son of Midnight Lute most recently finished second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby behind Revolutionary, which added points to his third-place finish in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot last fall.
“We felt early on that he had the pedigree to go a distance, even though his father was a sprinter,” Bulmahn recalled. “His grandfather is Real Quiet, who won the Kentucky Derby, so we were hoping from the beginning that he could be a developmental project, which he was.”
Bulmahn also hopes the colt's unique personality and intelligence will help him succeed. Unlike many Thoroughbred colts, Mylute is not very aggressive and wants to be involved with the people around him.
Bulmahn said he dreamed of being a jockey at a young age. His parents sharecropped a garden with neighbors, and Bulmahn recalls scaling a tree near the pasture where the neighbors' draft horses grazed peacefully.
“I found that when I climbed the tree in the middle of that paddock … and shimmied out on a limb, my body weight would be just enough that there would be some leaves that would tantalize the draft horses that they couldn't otherwise get,” he remembered. “They would come over to the tree and start nibbling, and when they did, I would swing down from the limb on their backs… and I was riding Secretariat down the stretch. You know, as the draft horse plodded around.”
In fact, he was so determined to be a jockey that he went a month without eating.
“My mother had to force food down my throat for about a year, and then I had the growth spurt and I knew I wasn't going to be a jockey,” he said.
Instead, Bulmahn became a businessman and has hired another Derby dreamer to pilot Mylute. Rosie Napravnik will take the reins with the hopes of becoming the first female rider to win the Kentucky Derby.
Napravnik is no newcomer to the Derby starting gates, either, having finished ninth aboard Pants On Fire in 2011. The young jockey was aboard Mylute for his last win in an allowance optional claimer last December.
“I think she has really tremendous hands. She gets a horse to relax, and I think that's very necessary, particularly in a big race where everyone is all keyed up,” said Bulmahn.
Napravnik's rise to power in the riding world has been well-documented in trade and mass media in recent months, as she became the first woman to ride a Kentucky Oaks winner last year and currently leads the country in wins.
“There's lots of great things in life, but there's nothing like winning a race,” Napravnik told 60 Minutes anchor Bob Simon on Sunday.
A win in the Derby has been in her crosshairs since her childhood riding in pony races.
From their respective vantage points, in the stands and in the saddle, it's safe to say Bulmahn and Napravnik will both be savoring the post parade.
“I think that when you hear 'My Old Kentucky Home', the strains of the music, and the horses are going out on the track, there is a special feeling that you get to be a part of it all,” said Bulmahn. “It's a special, meaningful feeling to have a horse at this level who can be a competitor.”
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