Steven Brandt's road to owning a Triple Crown racehorse is built on relationships.
It is about his late mother, Shirley Brandt, who told her son shortly before she died that he finally had a horse who would qualify for a classic race.
It is about his business partnership with Linda Rice, the most successful female trainer in the sport's history.
And it is about his personal partnership with Ric Boylan, Brandt's husband and co-owner of Kid Cruz, a 20-1 shot in Saturday's 139th Preakness.
After talking recently with Rice about the possibility of her becoming the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown event, Brandt, a Frederick native and University of Maryland graduate, asked Boylan: "Would we be the first openly gay couple to win a classic race?"
Aware of the attention given to former Missouri football star Michael Sam's announcement that he was gay — as well as the reaction to Sam's kissing his partner after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams last week — Brandt joked with Boylan that "we might have a Michael Sam moment if we win this thing."
Brandt, who took classes at Maryland at night while working as a telephone repairman, eventually made his way into a management role at Verizon before retiring in 2003 to focus on racing full time. He knows that he wouldn't have come this far as a horse owner without Rice's expertise or the love and support he has received from his parents and Boylan.
"She's helped me learn more about the business. I can't name another person who's helped that much," Brandt, 56, said of Rice. "I love partnering with her. ... I think it's important to have a good relationship. You're trusting somebody with a lot of money to take care of a fragile animal. In order to do that, I have to like them. We need to have some sort of relationship. I think it's important."
While Brandt and Rice have been working together for only a few years, he and Boylan have been a couple for more than three decades. They met in the summer of 1982 through mutual friends in Rehoboth Beach shortly after Boylan moved to Washington from Montana to work for the Democratic National Committee.
When they were married three years ago at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the tables at the reception were adorned with the names and pictures of the horses Brandt and Boylan owned. Brandt said the horse racing industry generally has been accepting of their relationship, believed to be the first between openly gay owners of a Triple Crown entry.
"It hasn't been a problem," Brandt said. "There's been some times when I've had to tell people to use different terms for things because they were offensive, but not many."
Trainer Tim Keefe, a board member of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association who has worked with Brandt at Laurel Park for a couple years, said Brandt's relationship with Boylan rarely is mentioned in the local racing community.
"I think, in today's world, people in general are more accepting of relationships like Steven and Ric have," Keefe said. "Certainly it's not an issue for me or anybody I really know. Quite frankly, if it is, I'd rather not be associated with people that it's a problem for."
Getting hooked early
Brandt was introduced to horse racing through a neighbor in Frederick who would take the teenager to nearby Charles Town Race Course in West Virginia.
"God knows how many times I was in the security office at Charles Town," said Brandt, who now lives on an island off St. Petersburg, Fla. "My neighbor was 70-something, and he wanted me to run his bets for him because his knees were bad and he couldn't go up and down. They'd haul me into the security thing and he'd have to get me out. My mom would say, 'You're never going again,' and the next Friday, I'd be back there."
Brandt recalled telling Boylan after they met that he wanted to own a racehorse someday. Brandt later was introduced to Fendall Claggett, president of the local chapter of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Claggett became his mentor.
"I said to him, 'I really want to learn more about horses,' so I asked if I could go work for his trainer," Brandt recalled.
Before going to work climbing telephone poles and, later, in a call center, Brandt would get up early every morning and head to Bowie Race Track, where he would work "mucking stalls, cleaning hooves, rubbing the horses down."
Boylan could tell how passionate Brandt was about horse racing. "I never saw him get out of bed so easy as when he went out to help [trainer] David Sipe," Boylan recalled.