Owner Albaugh on Taking Risks, Perseverance, Thrill of the Derby, and Catching Freedom

The Life
Dennis Albaugh, Dennis’ Moment, Kentucky Derby, Catching Freedom, Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, Eclipse SPortswire
Dennis Albaugh leads Dennis’ Moment into the winners’ circle after the Iroquois Stakes in 2019. Albaugh will be back at the Kentucky Derby in 2024 with Catching Freedom, winner of the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they travel the Road to the 150th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford ReserveMay 4 at Churchill Downs.

This installment features Dennis Albaugh, whose Iowa-based Albaugh Family Stables has reached the Kentucky Derby with remarkable regularity. Catching Freedom can become their seventh Derby starter since 2016 after he earned more than enough points to qualify with a dramatic last-to-first surge in the March 23 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.

Albaugh is very much a risk taker. He secured a $10,000 loan against his house to help start a pesticide and fertilizer company. Its growth from such humble beginnings allowed him to become a billionaire several times over. He works closely with Jason Loutsch, his son-in-law and racing manager, at keeping Albaugh at an amazingly high level. Albaugh enjoyed its best Derby finish last season when Pennsylvania-bred Angel of Empire took third. He was trained by Brad Cox, as is Catching Freedom.

Albaugh discussed the operation’s approach to the horses it purchases, his strong family values, and their Derby quest during a question-and-answer session conducted on behalf of America’s Best Racing.

PEDULLA: Did it take a lot of courage to take a $10,000 loan against your house to start your business?

ALBAUGH: I had to get my wife [Susan] to sign and convince her this was the right thing to do so, yes, it took a lot of courage. 

PEDULLA: I understand your first delivery of chemicals did not go well. What can you tell me about that?

ALBAUGH: I used $2,000 of the loan to buy a truck. The next morning, I headed to South Dakota. I headed up there and I thought the truck was running well. I thought, ‘Boy, I got a good deal for $2,000.’ Little did I know the chemical was leaking all the way up there. I called the authorities and they had no issue with the chemical leaking on the road. But it was a big shock when I got up there and nothing came out. I got home and my wife said, ‘How did your first delivery go, dear?’ I said, ‘Well, not so good.’

PEDULLA: I guess your success is about how you handled adversity.

ALBAUGH: You bet. The majority of my loan was gone, so I had to really dig in after that. I talked people into giving me some credit to keep it going.

 Not This Time, Iroquois Stakes, Albaugh Family Stables, Eclipse Sportswire
Not This Time (Eclipse Sportswire)

PEDULLA: What led you to get involved in horse racing?

ALBAUGH: We started with a horse at Prairie Meadows [in 2005] and it won a race and I said, ‘You know, Jason, this is fun. Let’s get some more of these.’ So, we started out that way and it got us to where we’re at today.

PEDULLA: You’ve had your share of disappointments in the game. How did you react when Not This Time was barely beaten in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was unable to make another start after that?

ALBAUGH: He went a little wide on the far turn and that cost him the race. We still got second so that was all right. Then we got the bad news after the race that he got injured in that race. So that was not a good time. 

PEDULLA: Could you talk about your decision to stay invested in him as a stallion?

ALBAUGH: It’s really turned out to be excellent. I was getting stallion farms calling me every 10 minutes. We kept half the horse because we knew the talent he had.

PEDULLA: I know hopes were high for Dennis’ Moment. The colt was named after you and he entered the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as an overwhelming favorite. What was that experience like?

ALBAUGH: That was probably my worst moment in the racing industry, when he came out of that gate and went clear down to his chest. He was doing everything excellent right up to that race. He never really became a racehorse after that.

Dennis Albaugh, Brody's Cause, Blue Grass Stakes, Eclipse Sportswire
Dennis Albaugh, blue suit center, with Brody's Cause. (Eclipse Sportswire)

PEDULLA: The game requires perseverance. You have persevered.

ALBAUGH: It definitely does. We’ve had lots of highs and lows in this game. We’ve experienced both sides of it.

PEDULLA: Do you have a system that is getting you to the Derby so consistently?

ALBAUGH: I don’t want to say it’s luck because we’ve got seven people who work with us in helping us pick out horses. They’re all experts at what they do. We’ve got a system that we go through. I’m not going to say what that system is.  

PEDULLA: How many horses are you buying each year?

ALBUAGH: Eight to 12 colts a year. And we have some mares that are kicking out racehorses also.

PEDULLA: You have not been afraid to spend for yearlings. You went to $575,000 for Catching Freedom at Keeneland September. 

Catching Freedom, Louisiana Derby, Albaugh Family Stables, Eclipse Sportswire
Catching Freedom winning Louisiana Derby (Eclipse Sportswire)

ALBAUGH: There is a lot of teaming up going on. We used to be able to pick up a good horse for $150,000-$200,000. Now, the number is $500,000-plus for quality horses. We’ve had a lot of great partners in this business and there is a lot of enjoyment in it.

PEDULLA: But don’t you typically maintain a majority interest in your horses?

ALBAUGH: That’s right. Most of the time, we own 75% of the horses. 

PEDULLA: It seems very important to you to win the Derby under your family’s name.

ALBAUGH: I love Kentucky. I love the horse racing business and it’s been a mission of mine. I would love to win the Kentucky Derby someday. 

PEDULLA: You have gotten there a lot. Do the setbacks frustrate you or deepen your hunger to accomplish this?

ALBAUGH: I think we just come back fighting harder. We got real close last year. Angel of Empire was making a big run. He got trapped early and couldn’t get out early enough. 

Catching Freedom, Louisiana Derby, Albaugh Family Stables, Eclipse Sportswire
Catching Freedom at Churchill Downs (Coady Photography)

PEDULLA: How many family members will you bring to the Derby?

ALBAUGH: We try to take the entire family. 

PEDULLA: Why is family so important to you?

ALBAUGH: I love them all and they’ve been very close to us. There is a back and forth. Everybody has different comments and stuff. There is a lot of excitement going on. The whole family can’t wait for the next big race. The family is what it’s all about, bringing them to the Derby and enjoying it.

PEDULLA: Were you involved in the purchase of Catching Freedom?

ALBAUGH: I said, ‘I want to come home with a Constitution. I love that horse. I’ve watched that horse and I want that in our breeding.’ That’s why we’ve got this one Constitution.

PEDULLA: Do you think you finally have the right horse in Catching Freedom?

ALBAUGH: He’s got to not make any mistakes during the race. Brad Cox is doing a great job of bringing him around. He’s improving on his mistakes every race, so maybe he’ll get it right in the Derby. He’ll certainly get the distance and he has the speed.

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