Allen Paulson, one of the most prominent owners and breeders in Thoroughbred racing history before his death on July 19, 2000 at age 78, embodied the American dream.
The native of Clinton, Iowa, began supporting himself at the tender age of 13 by selling newspapers and doing janitorial work. He moved to California in 1937 and worked on a dairy farm while completing high school. He was hired in 1941 as an entry-level plane mechanic, earning 30 cents per hour.
Paulson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943-45, earned his pilot’s license after the war and began flying commercially for Trans World Airlines. He formed his own company in 1951, first selling aircraft parts and later second-hand planes. His business soared, allowing him to purchase Grumman’s domestic plants and offices for $52 million in 1978. He eventually headed the world’s largest manufacturer of private jets.
Paulson once confided in Jerry Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey, that he based all of his decisions on risk versus reward. Surely there is risk involved in breeding and owning Thoroughbreds, but Paulson soon reaped the rewards after he entered the sport in 1983 and invested money with both hands. He operated breeding farms in Kentucky, Florida and California.
The reward? He won the Eclipse Award for outstanding breeder in 1993 and for outstanding owner in 1995 and 1996. His body of work was recognized with the ultimate honor, the Eclipse Award of Merit, in 1996.
Paulson is known, above all, for his astute management of the legendary Cigar. Although Cigar initially showed little as a grass horse, he made up for lost time after being moved to the barn of Bill Mott, a Hall of Fame trainer, and switched to dirt.
Bailey recalls Paulson as an owner who sought the best help and knew to allow them to do their jobs after that. “He never got involved in the [pre-race] instructions at all,” Bailey said.
As Cigar’s victories mounted, leading him to be Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996 and match the 16-race winning streak of Citation, Paulson’s greatest interest was in understanding the quality of the horse. There was no easy response.
“My answer was ‘I don’t really know’ because I was always trying to save a little bit,” Bailey said. “I never let the horse run all out when he was on top of his game.”
One of the most difficult questions Paulson faced was whether to run Cigar in the inaugural $5 million Dubai World Cup. The risk appeared to be high. Cigar would be asked to compete on a surface very different from what he was accustomed to. And there was no telling what toll the journey might take on him since it was unprecedented.
After meeting with race organizers, Paulson was all in. “He thought the reward - $5 million at the time – was worth the risk of going halfway around the world,” Bailey said.
Cigar’s success against a star-studded international cast only added to his legacy – and that of his calculating and bold owner.
- Paulson reportedly acquired Cigar in a trade with his wife, Madeleine, in exchange for Eliza, the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner.
- He sold a 50% interest in Arazi, the 1991 European Horse of the Year, to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum for $9 million.
- Paulson and his flight crew set 35 international records for around-the-world flight in a Gulfstream IV aircraft in 1990.
- He received numerous awards in aviation, including: the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy and the Harmon Trophy (both in 1987), the Howard Hughes Memorial Award (1988), and the Award for Meritorious Service to aviation (1994).
- He gave so generously to Georgia Southern University that the school named the College of Science and Technology and a stadium after him.