Sol Kumin invigorates racing merely through his presence in the game. His enthusiasm is infectious whenever he visits the track with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children.
Kumin, 42, founder and chief executive officer of Folger Hill Asset Management, has been as adept as a Thoroughbred owner as he is in the financial world. OwnerView honored him as the top new owner in 2015.
Kumin is best known for teaming with Jay Hanley to purchase Lady Eli, who rebounded from life-threatening laminitis to reassert herself as one of the leading turf mares of her era. Kumin agreed to reflect on his time with Lady Eli as she prepares for the final start of her illustrious career in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Here is Kumin’s diary, as told to Tom Pedulla on behalf of America’s Best Racing:
My journey with Lady Eli began with a goal that had nothing to do with horses. I was looking to have my family’s dream home built on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. A close friend suggested a construction firm owned and operated by Jay Hanley, and I accepted that recommendation.
Jay not only provided a house that was everything we were looking for and more but we became fast friends. He had grown up near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and became enamored with racing through regular family visits to the track there. I was born in Worcester, Mass., which is to say my interests revolved primarily around the New England Patriots, the Boston Red Sox and running around the lacrosse field. Racing was barely on my radar.
I knew Jay had dabbled in Thoroughbred ownership, and he called one day to see if I wanted to take the plunge with him in buying some prospects.
“You will like this sport,” he promised. “It has a lot of elements that you like. There is a deal-making part. And race days will be fun you can share with your wife and kids.”
Since my family and my work are my top priorities, in that order, that was all I needed to hear. We formed Sheep Pond Partners along with two other friends of mine and purchased a handful of horses. Incredibly, we got extremely lucky with three of them thanks to trainer Chad Brown and his staff. Lady Eli, Tammy the Torpedo, and Offering Plan all reached the Breeders’ Cup as 2-year-olds.
I was there when Tammy the Torpedo made a winning debut at Saratoga. I will never forget Chad telling us, “This filly is nice. But Lady Eli can run her into the ground.”
Needless to say, we made sure to be at Saratoga a week later for Lady Eli’s first start. She ran as advertised. She won impressively and quickly added a victory in the Miss Grillo Stakes, with Tammy the Torpedo finishing third.
Chad told us we would be going on to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Lady Eli and Tammy the Torpedo would be entered in the Juvenile Fillies Turf with Offering Plan representing Sheep Pond in the Juvenile Turf.
“Should we go?” I asked, unaware of the magnitude of the Breeders’ Cup.
“You should go,” Chad assured us.
That turned out to be a life-changing afternoon. I realized for the first time how special Lady Eli was as she made an explosive move to pull away by 2 ¾ lengths. More than that, for the first time I appreciated the glamour of the sport and experienced the nerve-tingling thrill that accompanies a huge win. Nothing beats that.
Having experienced the highest of highs, I plunged deep into ownership after that, often taking positions in horses that we viewed as having potential without yet hitting their best stride. Everybody needs something in life, some kind of passion outside of what they do every day. Racing fills that void for me.
Lady Eli ran her record to 6-0 when she won the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks and answered questions about her ability to last a mile and a quarter. Just when it seemed as if life could not get any better, misfortune struck. She stepped on a nail after the race.
Two days later, Chad called. By that point, we had developed a relationship that ran deeper than owner-trainer. I could tell by the tone of his voice that the news was not good.
“Lady Eli has laminitis,” he said.
“Laminitis?” I replied. “What is laminitis?”
He explained that laminitis is a painful hoof disease that can be fatal. We soon learned that the odds were no better than 50-50 that Lady Eli, named after my wife, would survive. The chance that she would run again? Maybe five to 10 percent. That she could return to competing at an elite level? One to two percent.
“You want her to live. You want her to be a mom,” Chad told us. “That is all you can pray for now.”
Those were my thoughts whenever I visited the barn at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. before starting a long work day or hopping onto a plane to my next meeting. I cannot say enough about the great work so many people did to save Lady Eli.
Chad and Cheri DeVaux, one of his top assistants, often slept at the barn to make certain everything possible was being done. Still, as I looked at Lady Eli in the pre-dawn hours, her feet plunged in ice, I could tell laminitis was testing her more than any opponent ever had.
Yet even as she appeared to sense that she was no longer invincible, she was driven to overcome this foe as she had so many others.
The recovery process was extremely slow but sure. Chad listens to his horses and, after a lengthy recuperation, she was telling him she was well enough to train again. And then she was ready to race again.
Remarkably, Lady Eli did not lose a step during her ordeal. In fact, Chad tells us she is training better than ever. We placed her in Keeneland’s November sale immediately after the Breeders’ Cup not because she cannot to continue to win. Jay and I just feel it is time for her to begin the next phase of her life and deliver foals as magnificent as she is. And we are not breeders.
This is the least we can do for Lady Eli, who has given us more than we could ever give her.