The first Kentucky Derby was held more than a century ago at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Back then, the winner of the race raked in just $2,850, while the second place finisher received $200. Today, the first place finisher receives $1.425 million. The stakes—and the glamour—of the Kentucky Derby have attracted a notable list of Arab sheiks, former governors, and plenty of entrepreneurs. Here are several business owners who share a passion for horse racing.
Owner: Ahmed Zayat
Business: Al Ahram Beverages Company
Ahmed Zayat moved to the United State from Egypt when he was 18. After earning degrees from Boston University and Harvard University, Zayat founded Al Ahram, a non-alcoholic beverage company, which, in 2002, sold to Heineken for a reported $280 million. That gave Zayat more time to focus on his other passion: horse racing. Zayat Stables, Zayat's venture into breeding racehorses, trains approximately 200 horses and keeps its headquarters in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Horse: Done Talking
Owners: Robert "Willie" White , Lou Rehak, and Robert Orndorff
Business: Mid-Atlantic Door Group
Willie White and Lou Rehak were childhood friends and neighbors long before they started the Mid-Atlantic Door Group, a garage and overhead door company based in Beltsville, Maryland. (Bob Orndorff went to high school with White.) The trio began their foray into horse-racing in 1992. They're a close-knit crew—they even named one their horses Mr. O'brien after one of their faithful employees, Seamus O'brien. The owners are so close, in fact, that according to their trainer, Robin Graham, "people often forget who is Willie and who is Lou. They're just 'Lou and Willie'…like one name."
Horse: Daddy Nose Best
Owners: Cathy and Bob Zollars
Business: Huitt Zollars Engineering
Bob Zollars is the co-founder of Huitt-Zollars, an architecture and engineering firm based in Dallas. The company, which has several offices throughout the United States, has completed projects ranging from office buildings to highways to bridges. Bob Zollars admits his engineering and entrepreneurial background come into play when racing horses. "In engineering, the discipline you're taught, there are things that work and things that don't," he told the Courier Journal in April. "You start deviating from that and you can have disasters."
Owner: Kenny Trout
Business: Excel Communications
Kenny Troutt, who is counted among some of the world's wealthiest people on the Forbes 400 list, is the founder of Excel Communications, a telecommunication company. Three years after the company went public in 1996, Troutt sold his shares and bought Prestonwood Farm, a thoroughbred breeding farm, and changed its name to WinStar Farm. Since taking over the farm over a decade ago, its breeders and trainers have produced several Derby contenders, most notably Super Saver, which won the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
Horse: I'll Have Another
Owner: J. Paul Reddam
Business: CashCall, Ditech.com
The founder of Ditech.com, a lender offering mortgages and lines of credit (and whose famous catchphrase, "Lost another loan to Ditech!" was parodied by Saturday Night Live) made his entrance into the world of horse racing in 1988. Reddam, who started his career as a philosophy professor at Cal State, sold Ditech.com to General Motors in 1999, which gave him the freedom expand his interests in horse racing. Reddam now serves as the president of CashCall, an online mortgage lender founded in 2003.
Horse: Take Charge Indy
Owners: Chuck & Maribeth Sandford
Business: Bag Makers, Inc.
Maribeth Sandford started Bag Makers in 1980 out of a Dairy barn in Illinois. Her husband, Chuck, joined the firm in 1991. The company, which manufactures custom bags emblazoned with company logos, has grown to more than 250 employees and prints more than 55 million bags a year. So why horse racing? "Chuck Sandford bought a horse because his wife, Maribeth, told him he needed a hobby," noted the Daily Herald, a daily newspaper that services the suburbs Chicago. "That was June 2009." In 2010, Chuck bought Take Charge Indy for $80,000. It appears his hobby paid off. Earlier this month, Take Charge Indy won the Florida Derby, which had a purse of $1 million.