Sol Kumin began his Kentucky Derby day on the horns of a dilemma.
The former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player was looking ahead to a race in which he’d own parts of three horses, including the eventual winner, Justify. If one of his horses won, the party would commence right around 7 p.m., the same time his alma mater was set to face off with arch-rival Maryland in the Big Ten lacrosse final.
“I cannot miss that game,” he said Saturday morning, on his way to pick up coffee from Dunkin Donuts.
As with many of the problems in Kumin’s life as a Boston-based hedge-fund manager and rising horse owner, this was a good one to have. And, as usual, it turned into a winning weekend all around for Kumin.
He became the first owner since 1952 to have Kentucky Oaks and Derby winners in the same weekend. And Johns Hopkins won the Big Ten Conference tournament over the Terps, 13-10, Saturday night in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Kumin had been up until 1:30 a.m. the night before, celebrating Monomoy Girl’s victory in the $1-million Kentucky Oaks.
Lacrosse actually helped kindle his love for horses. He didn’t know a thing about racing until his buddies took him to the Preakness on a Saturday when Hopkins had a bye in the NCAA Tournament. These days, he serves on the Board of Trustees at Hopkins and the Board of Directors for US Lacrosse.
Kumin jumped into the thoroughbred business at the urging of his buddy, Jay Hanley, a Nantucket-based contractor. Hanley said he’d love the thrill of the action and the mornings when he could bring his kids to visit the horses.
One of the first horses they bought was a 2-year-old filly, for $160,000 at the Keeneland April Sale. They named her Lady Eli, after Kumin’s wife, Elizabeth. She went on to win a Grade I stakes race each of the four years she ran before retiring at the end of 2017.
Clearly, this was a charmed enterprise.
Kumin also hit on one of the first Triple Crown colts he invested in, 2016 Preakness champion Exaggerator.
Just four years since he plunged into the racing business, Kumin is a known player, partnering with some of the most prominent owners and trainers in the game.
He tries to run his enterprise as a sensible business, investing mostly in low-risk turf fillies so he can take the occasional bigger risk on a colt with Triple Crown prospects.
Though he thinks like the hedge-fund manager he is in day-to-day life, he said racing is, above all, a passion.
The horses he cares for most are those he purchases as yearlings. In the case of Monomoy Girl, for example, he gave his friend, agent Liz Crow, a shot to pick the horse. Then he made the decision to place the $100,000 filly with Brad Cox, a Louisville native just emerging as a big-time trainer.
Because of those personal bonds, Kumin called the Oaks victory a “top-of-the-bucket-list” experience.
“With a good horse, you always have a plan,” he said. “But rarely does it work. In this case, it worked exactly.”
Looking ahead to the Derby, he knew he’d be thrilled if either Justify or Audible won. But he bought a 15-percent stake of those horses in February, so he knew it wouldn’t be quite the same. Heck, he’d only laid eyes on Justify twice before he arrived in Kentucky for Derby week.
He did purchase his other Derby horse, the comparatively grizzled My Boy Jack, as a yearling. He actually flipped the script in that case, selling a piece of the colt to West Point Thoroughbreds.
He reached out to Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, about buying a piece of Justify because he wasn’t sure My Boy Jack would qualify for the Derby. Walden said he could get in on Justify if he also agreed to purchase a stake in Audible. When Audible won the Florida Derby, that turned into an awfully good bargain.
Kumin knows horse racing makes fools of those who expect such good fortune to continue forever. But his three kids love the sport, and he keeps falling deeper in. He compared the butterflies he feels before a big race to the nervous anticipation before a Final Four game for Hopkins.
“You just say, ‘Oh crap!’” he summarized, chuckling. “The difference here is you can’t control the outcome. So you just grab your vodka and soda and hope you get lucky.”
After all the pre-race hype that said he might finally be the European invader to seize the Derby, Mendelssohn finished dead last.
“He just got knocked over coming out of the gate and then he got knocked over again going into the first bend, but he’ll be fine,” trainer Aidan O’Brien said. “He was never used to getting that much kickback. It’s a totally different experience, you know, so we’ll be fine.”
After his sensational 18 1/2-length victory in the UAE Derby, Mendelssohn went off as a 7-1 third choice on Saturday.
O’Brien said he plans to bring his horse back to Churchill for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the fall.
My Boy Jack becomes betting sensation
My Boy Jack entered as the most experienced horse in the Derby field but had not generated much buzz until Friday evening, when the odds on him mysteriously plummeted from 30-1 in the morning line to 5-1.
He went off as the second choice on Saturday night and finished a solid fifth, though he never threatened the lead.
“At the 3/8 pole, I had a wall of horses come back into me,” jockey Kent Desormeaux said. “He got stopped dry. My argument, in the end, would be that he probably would have been third.”