Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank has aggressively marketed his company from the beginning, unabashedly challenging established titans like Nike, Adidas and Reebok. A man who often speaks in sports-centric slogans, it can appear at times that he runs his primary business with the fury of a soon-to-retire linebacker facing playoff elimination.
But in his secondary pursuit, Plank has shown patience in a sport that, by nature, often destroys it. He has owned Sagamore Farm for seven years, rebuilding it gradually and allowing manager Tom Mullikan – an old high school buddy and football teammate – to methodically put together a breeding, training and racing program. Plank's demands are no doubt high – he has said a Triple Crown is his goal – but he’s avoided the urge to try to buy his way to the winner’s circle by paying over-the-top money for overhyped yearlings or big-name sires.
Now, Sagamore is beginning to consistently produce winning horses and has built a following in the racing community. The outfit – located on 530 acres in Glyndon, north of Baltimore – launched an online store to sell Sagamore gear this week. Staff members on the farm have been wearing Under Armour gear for years, often fielding questions from fans about where to buy it. The answer, now, is:
There’s more reason to believe that racing fans in Maryland will be backing Sagamore for years to come. The outfit finished third in earnings at the most recently completed meet at Laurel -- winning nine times with 38 entries -- and last year had its second Triple Crown entry when Tiger Walk ran in the Preakness.
It’s not as if Plank has not made any bold moves. Indeed, entering Monzon in the Belmont in 2011 and pushing Tiger Walk to run in the most important race on the third Saturday in May were “stretches,” Mullikan admits. But some racing observers thought Shared Account – one of the first four yearlings Plank purchased, for only about $180,000 – was a reach for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare on turf in 2010. She won, despite 46-1 odds.
Now Shared Account is in foal and expected to give birth in March. Bred to Bernardini (which means Plank isn’t exactly going cheap on stud fees), Shared Account has been jovial as she starts to show and near birth.
“She’s classy, as always,” Mullikan said. “But she’s still like a puppy dog out there. Some of the broodmares get bossy, try to mess with her. But it’s like she knows she’s a Breeder’s Cup winner. She’s not going to bother with them.”
All thoroughbred foals are born into great hope, of course, but Shared Account’s first born will be watched closely. Bernardini, who won the Preakness in 2006 and was named the top 3-year-old that year, is highly thought of. His first group of colts included Stay Thirsty, his second had Alpha. Both ran in the Kentucky Derby and would go on to win the Travers Stakes later in the summer of their 3-year-old racing years. Bernardini also traces his lineage back to Secretariat and, if you go back far enough, Sagamore Farm’s biggest name, Native Dancer. The “Grey Ghost” is buried on the farm.
Mullikan is also excited about the farm’s newly-turned 3-year-olds -- the number of which has grown each year -- especially Heat Press and Walkwithapurpose.
Heat Press finished second in his first race at Laurel in September, then placed fourth in races in Lexington and Louisville before breaking his maiden with a wire-to-wire score in December at Laurel, winning by 14 lengths.
Though Heat Press hasn’t shown up on always-fun-to-look-back-at lists of top Kentucky Derby contenders, he’ll be trained by Graham Motion – who conditions some of Sagamore’s horses at his Fair Hill training center – to qualify for the Triple Crown races. The horse could have run in an allowance race this week at Laurel, but the right race never materialized, Mullikan said. His next start may have to come elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic.
“Anytime a horse wins by 14 lengths, you start dreaming a little bit,” Mullikan said.
Maryland-born Walkwithapurpose, meanwhile, has won her last three races, including the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship on News Year’s Eve. Trainer Ignacio Correas said he hoped to see the filly run in the Black Eyed Susan the day before Preakness.