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Former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player Sol Kumin back in Baltimore as co-owner of Exaggerator

Former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player and current co-owner of Exaggerator Sol Kumin pets My Man Sam at the Blue Grass Stakes in April 2016.
Former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player and current co-owner of Exaggerator Sol Kumin pets My Man Sam at the Blue Grass Stakes in April 2016. (Courtesy of Sol Kumin)

On March 6, 1999, the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team opened its season at No. 1 Princeton. The Tigers, three-time defending national champions, led 9-3 late in the second quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, they were up by two. They hadn't lost at home in eight years. This is why Sol Kumin calls the game the sweetest of his Blue Jays career.

A senior attackman and man-up specialist, Kumin had a couple of assists in extensive action, and the Blue Jays rallied for a 12-11 victory, and Princeton's 41-game home winning streak was kaput. An aura of indestructibility, an era of invincibility — over.

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"To beat the Princeton team after they'd kind of pounded on us for three years," he said Wednesday, "that was probably my favorite game."

Horse racing is a contact sport steeped in risk: men and women hunched on 1,000-pound animals thundering around tight turns at 50 miles an hour. Falls are inevitable; injuries, a given. But head trauma has long been shrugged off by the industry. Jockeys often ride out concussions rather than forego a paycheck. And track owners have largely ignored the more subtle but sinister injuries in a community they consider a transient hodgepodge of independent contractors.

Those memories, of a champion knocked from its perch, will be especially resonant Saturday. Kumin's return to Baltimore — to Pimlico Race Course, where his love for horse racing took root in a Preakness infield — coincides with the emergence of yet another can-do-no-wrong force.

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Kentucky Derby champion Nyquist is undefeated in eight races and the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the second leg of the Triple Crown; Exaggerator, co-owned by Kumin's Head of Plains Partners group, is, with 3-1 odds, the would-be usurper. Kumin left Hopkins with no NCAA titles. The Preakness' Woodlawn Vase trophy would make for a nice, if belated, consolation.

A career on Wall Street and, for the past two years, in racing means there are always losses to reckon with. Still, Kumin's last in the Blue Jays' Columbia blue and black is difficult to write off, the disappointment just too much.

After a postgraduate year at The Hotchkiss School (Conn.), Kumin arrived in North Baltimore in 1995, a "sponge" of a freshman sold on assistant coach Dave Pietramala's passion. The team made the final four that freshman year, losing to Virginia in College Park.

Early playing time did not come easily; good times did. As a sophomore, he lived in a suite with Blue Jays classmates, including goalie Brian Carcaterra. Only graduation, it seemed, could separate them.

They would sign up for classes together, because peer pressure was sometimes the best way to get a college student to leave his bed. They would go to study hall together. They would not let themselves be sent to the "sprint line" at practice together.

"It was always good to have somebody designated as the early wake-up person to knock on everyone's door so we got our butts to class," Carcaterra said.

Kumin and Carcaterra became especially close, despite an understandable predisposition to hate each other's guts. A Boston native, Kumin rooted for the Red Sox. Carcaterra was a New York Yankees fan at a time when it was ideal be a Yankees fan. They managed to remain civil. When their team was in town to play the Orioles, both would walk over to Camden Yards to catch a game.

"We spent more time insulting each other, probably, than we did complimenting each other when it came to our local sports teams," Carcaterra said.

In Kumin's final season, Hopkins entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 2 overall seed. When top-seeded Loyola Maryland lost in the quarterfinals, and the Blue Jays won, they were sent to Byrd Stadium (now Maryland Stadium) to face Virginia, which they had beaten once already, and without top attackman A.J. Hogan. On the other side of the bracket were upstart Georgetown and Syracuse, and Hopkins already had handled the Orange, too.

But another Cavaliers win bookended Kumin's Championship Weekends. An 8-1 first-quarter deficit became a 16-11 loss, and Kumin sat on the bench in the game's final moments, motionless. This was the year, he had believed.

"You're like, 'Holy [cow], I'm done. That's it,'" he recalled thinking. "It was hard. It was the toughest loss that I've personally ever been through."

Weeks later, he was in New York, starting a job as a marketing associate at an asset management firm. Next came a vice president position on Wall Street, then a managing director post. In 2014, he founded Folger Hill Asset Management, of which he is CEO.

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That same year, he and friend Jay Hanley, a developer, launched Sheep Pond Partners, Kumin's entree into racing. He'd always had fond memories of attending Preakness Day in college with his teammates, though he was admittedly more inclined to search for a good bet than enjoy the infield revelry.

It was a good instinct. One of his first Sheep Pond Partners horses was Lady Eli, a $1.45 million earner purchased as a 2-year-old for $160,000. With Head of Plains Partners this year, he bought what he called a "medium-sized piece" of Exaggerator, the 2016 Santa Anita Derby winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up.

Nowadays, his bond to Hopkins perhaps has never seemed closer. Whenever one of his horses wins a race, Dave Rabuano, a former Blue Jays teammate and fan of the sport, texts him to say: "Hey, dude, I just saw that. That was awesome." When he visited Baltimore before the Kentucky Derby to help with the school's ongoing search for a new athletic director, administrators asked him about Exaggerator and My Man Sam, another Derby entrant.

Last year, he bought an untested colt sired by the undefeated Candy Ride. Kumin shipped the 3-year-old to trainer Chad Brown at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday. He had a new name, a fitting tribute from his owner — the first of many, he promised.

Kumin's calling him Homewood Field.

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