Mike Langford claimed his first horse in 1987. Since then, he has experienced success in Thoroughbred ownership on a modest budget.
Langford has owned two millionaires — Jonesboro and Carve. In 1999, he took a horse (Torrid Sand) to the Preakness Stakes, and Carve finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in 2014.
This year, he is living out one of his childhood dreams by taking Untrapped to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Untrapped finished second in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and third in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park before an unplaced finish in the Arkansas Derby.
ABR: How did you become interested in racing?
Langford: My father took me to Oaklawn [Park] when I was a kid, and I just fell in love with it. I would skip school to go with him. I love to watch horses, period, but when it comes to the Racing Festival of the South and the stakes races, I love to watch that caliber of horses run. I knew from an early age that I wanted to own horses. I got lucky and was able to do it.
ABR: How long have you been in the game, and what has the journey been like?
Langford: In 1987 a friend and I claimed a cheap horse. And I’ve been involved since then. When I had kids, I backed out of it quite a bit. But the last 12 years have been a pretty good ride. We’ve had better horses. Carve and Jonesboro made me realize that I can be competitive without a huge budget. I’m not the kind of guy who spends half a million on a horse. I don’t see the value in that. Right now, I’m at the Ocala Breeders’ [spring 2-year-olds in training] sale. I’ll probably buy a horse or two, but I doubt I’ll spend $200,000. I know that may sound like a lot of money, but when you’re competing against guys who spend millions a year, it’s not that much.
ABR: What makes the Kentucky Derby special to you?
Langford: It is the holy grail of horse racing. It is the biggest prize, including the Breeders’ Cup.
ABR: How does it feel to be bringing your first horse to the Kentucky Derby?
Langford: It’s surreal. I’m surprised at how it’s happened. I thought Untrapped would run first, second or third in the Arkansas Derby. But I feel very comfortable with this colt. I think the talent’s there. It feels right, and I sure don’t feel like we don’t belong. I think he’s going to run well.
ABR: How do you expect going to the Derby as an owner will be different?
Langford: I told my family that I was just going to try to really enjoy it and not put too much pressure on us. I just hope we run good; but it is totally different.
ABR: What parts of the day are you most excited about?
Langford: The walkover and “My Old Kentucky Home” and all of that. That’s when it all starts. I can’t imagine how it will feel as an owner to experience that. I’m sure I’ll get pretty emotional during the walkover.
ABR: How are you spending the days leading up to the race?
Langford: We’ll go to the Derby draw, and we’re going to a function Wednesday night, but we won’t be going to all of the big parties. We’ll probably play it kind of low key. My main enjoyment will be going to the barn in the morning and watching not just our horse but all the horses train. That’s what I enjoy more than all the pageantry.
ABR: Where will you go in Louisville besides Churchill Downs?
Langford: We didn’t know until Monday that were going to run for sure, so we don’t have reservations for anything. I like Eddie Merlot, and I enjoy going to downtown Louisville, so I expect that’s what we’ll do.
ABR: Describe Untrapped’s journey.
Langford: I bought him last year after the Ocala Breeders’ sale. His reserve was not attained, but Steve Asmussen loved the colt. He told me he was absolutely gorgeous. So I called Crupi’s New Castle Farm, and Jim Crupi told me he thought it would take $150,000 to buy him. I said I’d give $100,000. He told me he didn’t think the owners would do that, and then told me that Toby Keith owned the horse. So I said I would go to $125,000. Jim called me the next day and told me he was mine. He’s the first horse I’ve ever bought without laying eyes on him.
He ran his first race at Keeneland. Steve thought we’d win, and he usually doesn’t tip his hand. He got a bad trip. He went to dead last in two jumps, but he came flying on the outside and got second. The next time we ran him at Churchill, and he won by five lengths. And Steve told me, “we’ve got a runner.”
ABR: What makes Untrapped a good horse?
Langford: He just does things so easy. I’ve had two horses that have made a million dollars. They were good horses, but Untrapped just does everything so much easier than they do. He’s the total package. He’s good-looking and travels really well. He’s got a good middle move. You could shoot a cannon beside him, and he’d just look at the cannon and say, “Why’d you do that?” He doesn’t get rattled. He’s cool. He has that class. He gives you everything he’s got. I think the only race he didn’t really run his race was in the Arkansas Derby. I think blinkers hurt him a little bit. That was his first time wearing them. We’ve taken them off since then. He seems a little more relaxed now.
ABR: Which Derby horses do you think will be the most competitive?
Langford: I suspect McCraken. I think he’s doing really well. I think he’s the horse. And maybe Classic Empire. And I think Battalion Runner is a good horse, too.
ABR: What is your typical favorite or go-to bet at the racetrack?
Langford: I usually just bet to win. I don’t do a lot of exotics.
ABR: What superstitions do you have on race day or leading up to a race?
Langford: I’m not really a superstitious guy.
ABR: What is your most valued racing memento?
Langford: My mother gave me a shadowbox for the Preakness. She passed away in 2010. It reminds me of her and the memories we had with her. She also had a painting of Jonesboro made.
ABR: Who in racing do you admire most and why?
Langford: Steve Asmussen and his wife, Julie. Julie and Steve are very close. It takes a special kind of person to allow him to do what he does. Julie lets him live that life. But he doesn’t neglect his family. I’ve seen Steve drive home in the middle of the night to watch his kids run in a track meet.
ABR: What is your career?
Langford: I’m a commercial real estate developer.
ABR: What hobbies do you have away from horse racing?
Langford: Fishing and hunting.