The first thing you notice about Jack and Kelly McShane are their bright shining eyes and their great big smiles. It’s the aura of excitement circling around them. Within seconds you are drawn into their world and it’s lovely. Their horse Stubbins is racing in the million-dollar Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. They are “local kids” who grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., went to high school together and now live in Del Mar. This is a dream come true.
Jack describes himself as “not a studious kid.” He would ditch school and head to Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park. Kelly was into horses with her family and they spent almost every weekend at the track. “It was really fun! We enjoyed it and loved the horses and the betting!”
College? It’s the heart of the story because Jack didn’t go, and his friends did. He was working full time at Kings Liquor store. He worked for Jim Stubbins at night for four years and describes him “as the meanest, gruffest, toughest guy he knew.” When Jack got out of high school, Jim took him under his wings because “you can’t work in a liquor store the rest of your life.” He started quizzing Jack, “What are you going to do? Get a job? Go to school?” Jack thought, “It was surprising because he was not a nice person. Even to the customers coming in. He would not be a Walmart greeter. He would be the anti-Walmart greeter. “
He continued to influence Jack. He always had jazz or classical music playing in the store. “He was basically trying to guide me in a direction that was not track, alcohol, and fast women.” Stubbins told him “If you are not going to go to college, you need to broaden your horizons. You need to travel. You need to go to Paris, Spain, and Ireland. So, I spent the next three months saving my money to take this big trip, sold my car, and bought a one-way ticket to Europe.
He spent his nights on trains or at youth hostels. Just Jack and his rustic backpack. He did “Europe on $5 a day” which was popular at the time. He read books on the train. He expanded his horizon. Raised Catholic, this altar boy started feeling the spirituality and connection to a greater world.
“I came back so confident!” He returned to his job at Kings Liquor. “I just wanted to work hard and knew something would come up.” He was there two weeks and when Kelly walked in the door. On a whim.
She wasn’t planning to go to the liquor store. “I don’t think I had ever been there. I went there because my sister lived two blocks away and I went there with her husband. We needed something. I don’t know why I went. I walked in the door and he said “Kelly?” I said “Jack?” because he had this huge red beard. It was unbelievable.
We talked and he asked for my phone number when we were leaving. He gave me a little piece of paper. I started writing the number down and I stopped and thought “Oh, I don’t know if I want to go out.” Kelly is whispering as she remembers the story. “I wasn’t sure. Then I was like, ‘Well YEAH!’ I finished the phone number and we went to a hockey game.”
Life is a series of decisions. Sometimes the smallest decision is life-changing and significant. She is still stunned by the turn of events. “I love this story but it’s scary. Every time I tell it, I think. You know you just make quick decisions about things.”
She had noticed Jack in high school. She was listening to a conversation between Jack and his best friend. They were making plans to go to the track. “Oh my gosh! These guys are going to the track too. They were talking about Hollywood Park. “I thought, ‘I love this!’ I always felt that nobody did what I did on weekends. I was always going to the track with my family. Are they going this weekend? And they are saying “meet you in the parking lot in five minutes.” She gasped. “They are ditching school to go to the track! I couldn’t believe it! There is something about that though. They get it! They are one of my kind! I loved that!” This made him more interesting to her so when the time came, she said “Yes, I will give you my number!”
They dated for six years. Jack grins and says what followed was an awesome adventure. Failed restaurants. Always working hard. When Los Angeles County started posting grades in the restaurant windows, they started a company called EverClean Services. He came up with the idea of guaranteeing that the grocery store or restaurant would maintain an “A” if they hired their service or they don’t have to pay. “Kelly and I teamed up and she took care of all of the accounting and human resources. I took care of all operations and sales. We started with one person and sold it 15 years later when we had 200 people working for us. It was enough to buy some horses.”
They named their first horse Everqueen as an honor to their company. It was thrilling when she was their first win at Santa Anita in 2016. They had all their friends in the winner’s circle and were beaming with pride.
After Everqueen, they bought more horses. Some were not successful. “The learning curve has been pretty fast and pretty brutal which makes it more awesome right now.” Jack was watching live streaming of works from Ocala when he noticed a horse. “I couldn’t believe what I saw. So, I decided to go look at him. Got on a plane and flew to Ocala. I really believed that this horse was special from the breeze. It was a :10 flat breeze into a 16 mph wind. He was so balanced.”
Jack asked people he respected “Is this horse as great as I think?” Jack Sisterson replied, “Perfectly balanced” and that is exactly what he thought. “He’s been a wonderful animal. We talked about a couple of different names. I was talking to a high school friend and we had worked the night shift together at Kings Liquor. We were talking about Jim Stubbins and how tough he was. I thought “Oh my gosh, Stubbins! I have got to name him Stubbins. It’s such a good name! This could not be any other name. Tough. Clean. Fair.” Kelly thought immediately this was the perfect name.
Looking back, Jack reminisced. “Stubbins was consistent with everyone. Once you got to know him (and it took a couple of years) he dropped his guard a little bit. Then he was the nicest, sweetest person I have ever known. His exterior was tough and gruff. He was a former basketball and football coach from Ohio. We became a real family. There were a lot of people who kept an eye on me because I could have gone off the rails. We were all great friends. I still have the same friends from high school and a couple of them worked at Kings. There are seven of them and they will be at the Breeders’ Cup race.”
Stubbins has been a dream horse. He won the Pasadena Stakes at Santa Anita. He took them to Dubai to race in the UAE Derby where he ran sixth. He broke the track record at Keeneland during the Grade 2 Woodford Stakes presented by Keeneland Select. He is a tenacious closer.
Jack hadn’t talked with the Stubbins family in a while. Jim Stubbins had passed away years ago. He sent them a note about naming his horse after him. He pulled up a response from the Stubbins family. His voice cracked as he tried to read it. Kelly also tried to read it and started to cry. It said, “That’s awesome. So cool and so appropriate. May it be the first of many. The spirt of Jim lives. That you still honor his memory after all these years is something wonderful and speaks well of you, as of him. He touched us all, did he not? You’re a good soul, Jack.”
Kelly looked at Stubbins standing in the stable and quietly said “This reminds me of when we got married. You got to just stop and take it all in. You see all those fabulous horses coming on the track. My gosh.” Her voice cracked again as she struggled for words. She whispered “Then you see Stubbins. Your horse. And you are like that’s my horse. Very cool.”
Jack wrapped his big arms around Kelly, and you could suddenly see it. Two kids from high school who fell in love. Two kids who would ditch school to go to the track. Two horse-crazy kids who worked hard so they could be at the track as owners. Now they are at the Breeders’ Cup surrounded by friends and family with a horse named after the toughest, gruffest man who influenced Jack’s life. And, because Kelly decided to go to the store. You just never know what lies around the corner. It can be simply amazing! Mr. Stubbins would be so proud!