By Emily Shields
Originally published “PHBA September 2018 Newsletter
“Horse racing has taken me some places that I certainly would have never imagined,” said Hank Nothhaft. It rings as an ultimate understatement.
The longtime business tycoon only got into the sport as a means to an end, pursuing racing when he realized he wouldn’t be able to continue his success in the corporate world forever. “As you get older, you think about the next chapter,” he said. “The people working for me were younger and younger, I guess because I got older. Towards the end of my career it was a 40-year dichotomy between the average workforce and myself. It’s such a high energy game that I realized I couldn’t do it forever, even if I wanted to.”
Nothhaft feared what would happen if he was suddenly forced to retire via company acquisition, and have nothing to do. “I very consciously decided I needed to get something going on the side, something as satisfying as being a CEO to high growth companies, handling hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s an adrenaline junkie life; I needed something like that.”
Nothing spurs excitement more than horse racing, which can be a fast-paced numbers game. “It would fill my need for analytics, data, and the adrenaline rush, and I could do more with less than the other guys who had more money,” Nothhaft said. But his first attempt – running horses in Northern California – didn’t succeed.
The economic crisis in 2008, “crushed all the discretionary money endeavors,” and Nothhaft realized he needed to change his business model. “I hadn’t gotten involved with the right people. It became clear that there was no viable business opportunity running claiming races in Northern California. I got aggressive and unloaded all the horses I had; I ended up with two horses that I couldn’t place successfully.”
One of those two was Randie’s Legend, a Benchmark half-sister to stakes winners Eternal Rule and Frumious. “That’s turned out to be a great story,” Nothhaft said, but another great story unfolded first.
“I realized I needed to find more attractive financial footing if I was going to make a go of it,” Nothhaft said. He met Carl McIntee, who lured him out to Pennsylvania several times before Nothhaft decided the state breeder incentives were exactly what he wanted. He purchased the mare Be Envied in foal to City Zip and became the breeder of record for Pennsylvania-bred Finest City. Nothhaft sold the “quirky” filly for $50,000; she ended up in the barn of young trainer Ian Kruljac.
“I’m absolutely convinced if she had gone into a big stable she would have been lost in the shuffle,” Nothhaft said. “With the idiosyncrasies of her personality and the minor physical difficulties she overcame, it was a blessing that she ended up where she was.” That’s why Nothhaft has no residual regret about Finest City going on to earn $1,266,394 and winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint-G1.
And he still has something from the family, being the owner of stakes winner Grand Prix. The four-time winning Pennsylvania-bred was injured earlier this year, but is back in training at Keeneland with Ben Colebrook. “She’s got dirt and Tapeta to train on there,” Nothhaft said. Another half sibling, the winning Silver Train mare Move, was bred to Verrazano this year.
The predominant reason that Grand Prix hasn’t been retired is because Nothhaft considers it a life goal to win the Presque Isle Masters-G2 with a homebred. He’s already won it twice with Living The Life (Ire), who scored in 2014 and 2015. She missed by a head in 2016. “People want to win the Breeders’ Cup, etc., but my realistic goal is to win the Masters with a Pennsylvania-bred. I’m hoping that will be Grand Prix.”
With so many horses on the sidelines or back in training, Nothhaft notes that this is a “regrouping” year for him, but one horse he bred is tearing up the turf. Randie’s Legend, one of the mares he couldn’t sell when leaving California, produced a Scat Daddy filly in 2015. The Pennsylvania-bred Daddy Is a Legend was sold for $140,000 as a weanling, and now races for Jim and Susan Hill and trainer George Weaver.
She won the Jimmy Durante Stakes-G3 at Del Mar as a juvenile, and added the Lake George-G3 at Saratoga on July 20.
In between, Daddy Is a Legend was fourth in graded stakes races at Keeneland and Belmont, and third on the Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill Downs. That race, the Edgewood Stakes-G3, was run in a driving rain where Daddy Is a Legend missed the victory by a half-length behind Toinette and Breeders’ Cup winner Rushing Fall. She once again followed Rushing Fall home in her most recent effort, when third in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Lake Placid on Aug. 18.
“The fickleness of horse health is so fleeting,” Nothhaft said. “I had to be prudent and sell some of my horses, otherwise you’re not putting a lot of money back. I’m obviously tickled pink that Daddy Is a Legend got into such fantastic hands. She has proven the commerciality of Randie’s Legend and rewarded my loyalty to her.”
Hank Nothhaft purchased future star, Living The Life (Ire), in England in 2014
Randie’s Legend has a City Zip yearling colt and a Tiznow weanling filly, both of which Nothhaft still owns. The mare has been bred back to Candy Ride (Arg) for 2019.
“Pennsylvania has been really good to me,” he said. “I’ve figured out how to have success here whether I own them or sell them to others. It’s a fantastic program.” Fielder, who Nothhaft bred but is racing for Waldorf Racing Stables LLC, won the Marshall Jenney Stakes at Parx on July 21. He finished second in an allowance race against open company at Laurel Park three weeks later.
Nothhaft, who recently broke an ankle and tore his meniscus in a stairwell accident, will be out of action for a while but has plenty to keep his mind occupied. “I have 10 brood- mares, roughly 15 horses on their way to the track, and six or seven in training. Right now, I don’t have any horses that I own that I didn’t breed. They’re all homebreds. I’m not in any partnerships with anybody. I’m striving for quality, not quantity. This whole sport has kept me grounded and headed in a positive direction.”