Q&A with Jake Ballis of Black Type Thoroughbreds

Pop Culture
Jake Ballis (center) and wife Maddie search for the next Derby winner at the Keeneland sales. (Courtesy of Jake Ballis)

Jake Ballis, principal owner of Black Type Thoroughbreds, has had considerable success in the horse business over a short amount of time. The very first horse the Houston native bought into with his childhood friend and former high school basketball teammate Rashard Lewis, Join in the Dance, made the 2009 Kentucky Derby. In the years since, Ballis, former NBA player Lewis, and partners scored with horses such as graded stakes winner Cigar Street, and in 2019 Ballis launched Black Type.

Last fall, Hidden Connection drew raves with a graded stakes win at Churchill Downs and subsequently ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. That Bret Calhoun-trained filly is a Longines Kentucky Oaks contender for Black Type and Hidden Brook Farm.

Ballis, who played college basketball at the University of Houston, resides in Lexington, Ky., with his wife Maddie Mattmiller, director of client relations at Climax Stallions. His father, John, owned 1987 champion sprinter Groovy among other horses. Get to know more about Jake in this Q&A.

Your father owned some great racehorses. Was there any event during your childhood that sparked the passion for you? There really wasn’t one event.

Did your dad give you any advice when you decided to buy racehorses? What was it? His main advice was to trust my gut and never get too down when you make a mistake because we will make plenty in this business. 

Favorite all-time racehorse: Rachel Alexandra

Best horse you’ve owned: Mean Season was the most talented horse I have owned. It is very unfortunate he got injured and we never saw how good he could have been.

Ballis, jockey Eric Cancel, and Rashard Lewis. (Courtesy of Jake Ballis)

You and Rashad have been friends since high school. What’s your favorite memory from those days, on the basketball court or off? On the court: Traveling around the county playing AAU ball with him was an incredible experience. I had the best seat in the house to watch how good he was. Off the court: Crawfish boils at his mom’s house.

When did you and Rashad decide to partner in owning racehorses? Was there a specific event you went to or a particular horse that motivated you to do that? He just signed a big contract with the Orlando Magic and Angel Cordero called me about purchasing Join in the Dance. We spoke for a while and decided to give it a shot. Never in our wildest dreams did we think the first horse we would own together would make the Kentucky Derby.

The first horse you and Rashad owned, Join in the Dance, took you to the Kentucky Derby and he set the early pace before finishing 7th in the Mine That Bird Derby. How did you feel when you watched him lead the field in the backstretch? When did you start thinking, “We’ve got a shot here.” I saw the fractions he set and knew deep down it would take a super horse to win. We brought 42 people and watching their reactions was priceless and something I will never forget. I was really, really proud of him.

What’s your go-to bet at the track? Doubles and Pick Fives.

How does owning horses satisfy your competitive passion compared with basketball? The adrenalin rush is the same or better than any game I played in. The main difference is we have no control of the outcome. All we can do is manage the horse the best we can and try to run them in spots where they can be competitive. I tell people this all the time that there is no better feeling than watching your horse cross the wire first. This is the closest thing to being a GM or owner of a sports franchise.

What’s your favorite thing about owning horses? I love competing and there is nothing more exciting than having a horse competing on the biggest stage.

Who’s going to win the NBA championship this year, and why? I like the Phoenix Suns and would love to see Chris Paul get a ring.

Favorite NBA player: Past: Hakeem Olajuwon. Current: Kevin Durant

Best basketball player you competed against in college: Kenyon Martin

Has the popularity of the 3-point-shot changed basketball for better or worse since you played about 20 years ago? I don’t know that better or worse is the right way to describe it. I enjoyed the physicality of playing basketball, but today it seems like everyone wants to be a guard and shoot threes. Back in the day you had Hakeem, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Laimbeer, etc. That is the basketball I liked to watch and we won’t ever see that many good big men in one era again.

Favorite memory from the 2021 Breeders’ Cup with Hidden Connection: Having my wife, partners, and family with me. I wouldn’t be in the situation without them, so to have everyone around meant a ton. I wish we had a different outcome, but she will take us back to a big stage again this year.

Favorite racetrack: Saratoga

Best racetrack food you’ve had: Delta Downs buffet

Favorite drink at the track: Cold beer

What’s the best streaming series you’ve watched during COVID? Jack Ryan, Goliath, All American

Favorite sports teams aside from the Houston Cougars: LSU and now the Cincinnati Bengals since they drafted Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase.

Best pro athlete to play in Houston during your time as a fan: Hakeem Olajuwon

Favorite vacation spot: Colorado

Best concert you’ve attended: I love Texas country music. Give me a hole in the wall bar in Texas over a big music venue any day.

“Best kept secret” racetrack in America: Kentucky Downs. But I do not think it is a secret anymore.

What does racing need to do better in order to attract new fans? Free entry to the track and give out free data. After you pay to enter and buy a Daily Racing Form, that $20 would be better off going to the windows. If you charge a $10 entry, then give the fan a Form and a $10 voucher.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!