Kevin Plank asked for the floor. The Sagamore Farm team quieted, the Under Armour squad hushed, the Graham Motion crew stood at attention, the NYRA brass turned and listened. Plank raised his glass of champagne to salute Lake Placid winner Shared Account.
“First of all to everyone who’s here, I want to thank you very much for coming with us, my home team from Under Armour, my friends here, my beautiful wife and I have some of my partners here.
“Edgar Prado, who’s not here, gave us a great ride, hat’s off to Edgar. First and foremost, Graham for your vision and your leadership with the horse and for making her great today and other days. We’re going to forget about Florida and move onto what happens next. It’s nice to have you partnered with Sagamore Farm. What we’re doing there is very big, hopefully it will some day be a very special place.
“I thank Dan Rosenberg for his help, Bobby Feld who picked the horse, Tommy of course, my partner in crime at Sagamore. Tom’s job is to make sure the horses win, my job is to make people actually care if they win or not. We have a long way to go on both fronts, but I think the upside will be great.
“It’s a special day, my first, and it was probably both different and a lot better than I could have imagined. With that, we raise our glasses and say cheers to Sagamore Farm and Shared Account. Thank you guys, very, very much.”
The entire Trustee’s Room toasted Sagamore Farm’s (well, Sagamore Farm II) first graded stakes score. Plank, founder of Under Armour apparel company, has set out on an ambitious mission – to revitalize the once-great Maryland farm and to help revitalize Thoroughbred racing. Plank, 37, grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland and like any good Marylander went to the Preakness every year. As the Preakness and Pimlico lost its luster and Under Armour grew, Plank got fired up. Like poking a lion.
“My mentality at work every day is what I carry at the track, which is over-promise and deliver, which is big bets and big partners. Thinking bigger is better,” Plank said. “That mentality is something I see in not only for our farm but our industry as a whole. I’m a Maryland-bred and I see the value that racing, Pimlico and the Preakness in particular, have in our state, that’s one of the driving reasons I got involved. When I come up here and look at Saratoga, all that this has to offer, if we could replicate this seven or eight more times around the country, you wouldn’t be talking about what happened to horse racing.”
Thoroughbred racing’s leaders preach about bringing young, energetic, ambitious, successful people into our business. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. Plank founded Under Armour in 1996. A former football player at, where else, the University of Maryland, Plank wanted to build a better T-shirt, one that wicked sweat from your body and helped regulate temperature. Under Armour now has net revenues of $164 million, trades at $24.16 on Nasdaq and is probably in every corner of the Saratoga jocks’ room. And Plank has a burgeoning racing stable.
Plank bought Sagamore Farm, Alfred Vanderbilt’s former farm that once housed Native Dancer, in February 2007. After looking at farms, he settled on Maryland’s best, 425 acres of beauty and history.
He hired, or more like partnered with, Tom Mullikin, his former football teammate. Mullikin had worked as a computer programmer before going to Paris, KY to help run Machmer Hall, a commercial breeding operation. He served two years at Ned Evans’ Spring Hill Farm as well.
“I found out in my late 20s, what I didn’t want to do, corporate world. Call it a quarter-life crisis, but I just want to do something new, give it a shot, I went down there and got the bug,” Mullikin said from the Trustees Room. “Then fast forward eight years later and I just happen to have dinner with Kevin, he said he wanted to get in the game. He completely blindsided me. I was like, ‘good luck.’ He was like, ‘No, I want to do it together.’ How it all came together was inexplicable. It’s not like we grew up on a farm or rode as youngsters. I remember Jim McKay on Saturdays and that always captured us. It’s amazing.”
Plank and Mullikin won their first graded stakes Friday with Shared Account, a filly purchased as a yearling. They’ve taken some lumps already, lost a nice horse this spring, learned a few lessons.
They talk intelligently about racing. They listened to Motion when he said he wanted to give Shared Account 30 days of nothing after a dismal winter in Florida. They have a chance to make it in this sport.
“I like to build and there are a lot of great, smart people in racing today. Winning is about energy, winning is about vision, winning is about the ability to explain and articulate that vision,” Plank said. “Unfortunately today, I still have a day job that I spend 95 percent of time on, or fortunately. I love it and enjoy it. Racing is a hobby, a love and a passion for me, hopefully I’ll be able to help drive and make better and give something to it, instead of just taking from it.”
Sign up Plank for next year’s Hall of Fame commencement. If he doesn’t motivate you about your business, this sport, life . . . take your pulse.
“What I say in business is, ‘I was only smart enough to be naive enough to not know what I couldn’t accomplish.’ When I deal with people in racing, I don’t listen much,” Plank said. “Because, typically, people have a story with seven reasons why you can’t do something. I’m a big advocate of, ‘Imagine if every racetrack did look like this.’ Why doesn’t it? Why can’t it? People have to believe in it, people have to make it happen versus the ‘I can’ts, I won’ts, I shouldn’ts.’ I don’t allow that on my farm, I don’t allow that in my business, I only talk about what is possible.”