The Billionaire Next Door: Forbes 400 and Racing

by | 09.24.2013 | 8:07am
John C. Malone, owner of Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla.

One of the newest stakeholders in Thoroughbred racing and breeding in the United States is also one of the wealthiest Americans, according to the Forbes 400 list published in the Sept. 16 edition of Forbes magazine.

John Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media who in August purchased Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla., ranks 61st on the list of the 400 richest Americans, highest among those involved with Thoroughbreds, with an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion. The 72-year-old Malone, whose wife Leslie is a lifelong equestrienne, slipped from No. 57 on last year's Forbes list.

Horse owner Ramona Bass of Fort Worth, Texas, is not on the list, but her 57-year-old husband, Lee Bass, ranks 260th, with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion. Lee and Ramona Bass are well-known philanthropists in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with a particular bent on wildlife preservation. Lee Bass is one of four brothers on the Forbes list who inherited a fortune from an uncle, oilman Sid Richardson, and multiplied it through investments.

B. Wayne Hughes, the owner of Spendthrift Farm in Lexington who has campaigned many top-class runners, including 2012 champion 2-year-old filly Beholder, checks in at No. 273 with $2 billion. In 1972, Hughes created Public Storage, a self-storage business that grew to more than 2,200 locations worldwide. Hughes' daughter, Tamara Hughes Gustavson, ranks 157th on the Forbes 400, with an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion.

Brad Kelley, like Hughes a self-made billionaire with an estimated net worth of $2 billion, is the owner of Calumet Farm and campaigned this year's Preakness winner, Oxbow. Kelley, 56 years old, is a Kentucky native who built his wealth in the tobacco industry and is now living in Tennessee. He and Bridlewood Farm owner John Malone are among America's biggest landowners.

Robert McNair (No. 273, $2 billion) owned Stonerside Farm in Paris, Ky., until shifting his interests to football with the purchase of the NFL's Houston Texans. McNair sold Stonerside and his bloodstock holdings to Sheikh Mohammed in 2008 but a few years later re-entered horse racing with the purchase of a handful of racing prospects, most of whom were sent to Europe to train. McNair, 76, built his wealth in the power plant/energy industry.

Gerald J. Ford, who bought the late Allen Paulson's Brookside Farm in Versailles, Ky., and named it Diamond A Farms, made his fortune in banking, specifically mergers and acquisitions. Forbes puts his net worth at $1.9 billion and ranks him No. 296.

Kevin Plank started an athletic apparel company in his grandmother's basement in 1996 and called it Under Armour. The company has been a massive success, with Forbes estimating 2012 sales at $1.8 billion. The owner of Alfred Vanderbilt's old Sagamore Farm in Maryland, Plank, 41, has a net worth of $1.7 billion and ranks 327th on the Forbes 400 list.

Jim Justice II ($1.6 billion, No. 342) made his money in West Virginia's coal business but may be better known for his purchase of the historic Greenbrier Resort or his achievement as a girls high school basketball coach, winning West Virginia's coach of the year award in 2012. Justice also races horses, purchasing about $3 million worth of yearlings and 2-year-olds in training in recent years. Justice also bought the 5,500-acre Anderson Circle Farm – a cattle and crop ranch in Mercer County, Ky.

Former Forbes 400 members Kenny Troutt, owner of WinStar Farm in Versailles, and Charlotte C. Weber, owner of Live Oak Stud in Ocala, narrowly missed this year's list. Each has an estimated net worth of $1.27 billion, according to Forbes.

The magazine lists country music star Toby Keith – who breeds and races horses in the name of Dream Walkin' Farm and is a Breeders' Cup Ambassador – as having a net worth of $320 million and being one of the “15 to watch” for possible ascension to the 400 list.

Horse racing has some powerful and wealthy individuals. That's one of the great things about this business. You can be at a racetrack, breeding farm or auction pavilion, and you might not know if the person standing next to you gazing at the same Thoroughbred is a groom or a member of one of the most elite lists in America.

  • Steven Tyre C.P.A.

    Having owned thoroughbreds..won races…..and like most owners lost money…I appreciate the big money guys who lose money year after year but are still in it for the love of the game. There is nothing like winning a race by a nose with a horse that you own.

    Steven Tyre C.P.A.

  • George Isaacs

    ” I consider myself very blessed that the Ladies and Gentlemen on this lists love horses and property like I do and give me and all the employees and vendors in our Industry a job and the ability to get up every day and do what we love.”
    George Isaacs, G.M.
    Bridlewood Farm

    • RayPaulick

      Well said, George. That goes for a lot of us. The horses are the ties that bind us all.

  • Don Reed

    John Malone has been more trouble than he’s worth since he left the starting blocks of his career, and will be a highly dubious nominee to the title of being an ambassador of the sport.

    Cantankerous, cold, curt and avaricious are just some of the words that come to mind.

    His only virtue is that his competitors have continuously exhibited even worse personality traits.

    • swaps55

      As a former employee I can only say that his nick name in the industry is Darth Vader. Racing attracts all types of people. I recall a regional marketing manager at his tci did not last long after he said truthfully the management had a go to hell attitude toward its customers and stockholders. he got rich by perpetually shifting assets and rewarding himself stock options. and yet most of his fortune will go to a trust, where, like the bill daniels trust, it will be raped and pillaged by directors like him. maybe the horses will teach him some humility and humanity.

    • Don Reed

      Thank you, Mr. Swaps. I appreciate your advice.

  • swaps55

    The real story here is that so few of the super rich engage in the sport of kings. Modern horse racing is like art collecting so that is strange as they like to show off and buy art.

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