The Main Track: McIngvale Brings Hope to Houston

The Life
Jim McIngvale celebrates his Breeders' Cup win with Runhappy. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.

Each Tuesday in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past week, detailing news that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.

Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next Tuesday’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.

As for this week, our featured story involves the incredible work of a well-known Thoroughbred owner to ease the suffering of Houston residents due to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale truly believes that he’s not a hero.

“What I did was nothing,” he told America’s Best Racing. “It was my obligation to do it.”

But there are millions of people around the world who would beg to disagree with him.

In particular, there are more than 197,000 of them who have already signed a petition asking the city of Houston to celebrate a “Mattress Mack Day” to honor McIngvale’s supremely humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of last week’s horrific flooding in his hometown that has claimed at least 60 lives.

To them, McIngvale’s response to the tragedy unfolding in Houston represented the very best in all us.

As homes were destroyed by the rising floodwaters from Harvey and people took to roofs and bridges to find refuge, McIngvale wasted no time and spared no expense in lending a helping hand to Houston residents left homeless and stranded by the catastrophic storm.

On Sunday, Aug. 27, McIngvale sent out about 15 of his company’s box trucks to drive around the Texas city and pick up people in desperate need of shelter and then housed about 400 of them for three days in two of his Gallery Furniture stores. He used the furniture and bedding in those stores to give them a safe haven as the storm continued and also paid for food, blankets, and even portable showers to make them as comfortable as possible during such a wretched time in their lives.

“I got up at 8 a.m. Sunday morning and saw a foot of water in the street. I saw cars driving the wrong way on the highway and knew the game was on,” McIngvale said. “Once I got to my store, our great Gallery workers began to work so hard to help people. We put our trucks on the road and started rescuing people. It was the easiest decision of my life. I’m not a hero. These are my people, my neighbors. If we don’t take care of our own, who will?

“People said it will damage your inventory but what good are beds and furniture if you can’t sit or sleep on them? To hell with profits, it’s not about profits. To hell with politics, it’s not about politics. It’s about doing the right thing and setting an example to my children like my parents set an example for me.”

McIngvale’s efforts became national news and served as one of many examples of how the people of Houston have worked together so powerfully in the face of such overwhelming adversity.

“It’s magical what happened,” he said. “The city changed. Instead of being divided and divisive, it’s more united than it’s ever been. It was an intense experience but also a gratifying experience to see the overwhelmingly resilient spirit of people when facing tremendous adversity. So, some good might come out of this horrible flood and hurricane. If there’s a silver lining in this tragedy, it’s how we came together to help each other.”

While the storm has passed, the damage it left behind promises to put Houston’s new-found togetherness to the test as the city faces a massive and lengthy clean-up and rebuilding effort.

“The cleanup is going to take a while,” the 66-year-old McIngvale said, “and the city is already working together to fight this common enemy. Water can be like kryptonite. It’s death to furniture, drywall, and everything else. It’s a massive clean-up and a massive rebuilding project. But we have overcome tougher fights, and we will overcome this one. That’s who we are. We work together.”

McIngvale's Runhappy (Eclipse Sportswire)

Best known in racing as the owner of 2015 champion sprinter Runhappy, McIngvale said he was touched by the response throughout the sport to his work. He said Claiborne Farm, where Runhappy stands, will donate a portion of the sales of its Runhappy items to flood victims.

From other corners of the industry, some of the charitable gestures include Florida-based trainer Carlo Vaccarezza and owner John Williams, who own Frank and Dino’s Restaurant in Boca Raton, donating 20 percent of the restaurant’s sales from Sept. 3-6 to the J.J. Watt Foundation. At The Jockey Club website, there’s a link to the AAEP Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund to aid horses and their caretakers in Texas and Louisiana who have been impacted by the hurricane.

“The response from the Thoroughbred industry couldn’t be better,” McIngvale said. “I’ve received so many calls and emails, including one from (Winstar Farm President and CEO) Elliott Walden, voicing such great support.”

There’s no doubt the people reaching out to McIngvale believe he did something very special and commendable, but even as the acclaim grows he’d prefer they avoid using that special word reserved for people who display exemplary courage during a time of crisis.

“The real heroes are the first responders, the brave and brilliantly hard-working firemen, police, and national guard members,” he said. “They risked their lives. They are the heroes, not me.”

There’s no doubting that, but whether McIngvale likes it or not, those words were indeed spoken by a true hero.

The Also-Eligible List

Here are some of the other stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry:

Gun Runner much the best in Woodward

Lady Ivanka charges to Spinaway score

Moonshine Memories speeds to Del Mar Debutante win

Champion Songbird retired

The Pizza Man to parade Sept. 16 at Arlington Park

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