BH Interview: Trey Gordon

Trey Gordon, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, didn't take the most direct path to his role. In fact, his path involved changing a flight that was ultimately seven hours late, lost luggage, and wearing the same clothes as the day before. Despite all of that, Gordon met with West Point Thoroughbreds CEO Terry Finley and executive vice president Jeff Lifson in Ocala, Fla., and everyone came away impressed. And since stepping into his role in April, Gordon says he's no longer "dreading to go to work anymore." Discussing his career, passion for horse racing, and his love for Notre Dame, Gordon said Finley's "integrity and his reputation is the sole reason why I'm a partner with West Point and why I took this job." He also praised West Point Thoroughbreds' efforts to give their former runners second careers. "We diligently try to keep up with those horses," he said. "We feel like if they wore the black and gold, that we're going to do our best to make sure they have a chance at a second career." BloodHorse: How did you first get involved in horse racing? Trey Gordon: When I was a kid, in the '70s, I had really bad asthma. There was a certain time of the year around the first of May, when there was something that bloomed, and for three or four years I had to be under an oxygen tent. I can remember watching Secretariat, the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby, watching the Derby, all under an oxygen tent. That really resonated with me seeing how great he was, and of course, back then, there weren't 50 million sports channels. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, etc., were all a big deal for really the entire country. I fell in love with Secretariat. That stayed with me. I didn't want another horse to win the Triple Crown right after Secretariat. I was given a 10-speed bicycle that was gray. I would pretend that I was riding a horse called Iron Constitution that was a gray horse rival of Seattle Slew's, and a couple streets over from my house there was a park that was oval shaped. I'd ride my bike and pretend I was riding Iron Constitution to upset Seattle Slew in the Triple Crown. When I was 12, my dad took me to the Fair Grounds, and I had to wear a clip-on brown tie and I got to go to the track with Dad and see that old wooden grandstand. That was beautiful. That had a big impact on me, too. We didn't have horse racing in Texas and I would get together with some high school buddies from time to time and go over to Louisiana Downs. When I got out of law school, I joined a partnership group...and had some modest success. … But then, once I started having kids, I felt like Child Protective Services would probably want me to pay for the kids and not the horses so I had to make a choice. From that point on, I would love to get into horse racing again at some point in my life. Fast-forward to 2021. I just finished serving as the chairman of the Fort Worth Stock Show Syndicate. … After my chairmanship I felt like I needed to find a hobby, I needed to find something else to do in my life beyond practicing law, and I started doing research on horse racing partnerships and found information about West Point Thoroughbreds. I did more research and found out that they have a strong connection at Notre Dame (where Gordon went to college). It just seemed on the surface like a natural fit. BH: Was that your favorite racing memory? TG: Secretariat has always been my favorite athlete of all time, but in 2021 I went to Saratoga for the first time because Dripping Gold had been entered into a maiden special weight. I'm sure we felt like we were the Clampetts going to the track because we really didn't know what to expect. And we're in the paddock before that race. And Dripping Gold throws Jose Lezcano. He kicks Anthony Hamilton, Shug McGaughey's assistant in the head—seven stitches. I thought, "Oh my gosh, we have come from Fort Worth, Texas, with our very first horse to run at Saratoga. And he's gonna get scratched in the paddock." And I told Terry Finley, "I'm sorry. I think I brought a little Western with me up to Saratoga." And the horse went from 3-1 to 6-1 and he won the race. That's a pretty special memory that would be hard to replicate. BH: What are your responsibilities? TG: The overall answer would be to help Terry Finley and the family continue to grow West Point. That's a very generic answer, I understand. But that takes on many different roles. I'm an attorney by trade. I can help in that regard from time to time. But I was a mediator for the last 15 years. In that world, you have to establish credibility quickly with the attorneys that are at the mediation, the parties that have come to the mediation, and you have a short period of time to establish credibility with those folks to help try to get the case resolved. For the parties, whatever their issue is, that's really significant. And your job is to try to help them get this resolved. Some of that translates really well to what I'm doing with West Point Thoroughbreds, interacting with partners, establishing credibility with our partners, getting to know what they like, what they're interested in. And furthermore, to help bring in new partners to West Point, as we continue to grow. BH: What do the operations look like now? How many how many horses fall under the West Point umbrella? How many partnerships do you have? TG: We have about 150 horses. We bought 17 2-year-olds this year and, with the exception of two we recently bought at the (Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training) Maryland sale, the others are completely sold out and these will sell out pretty soon as well. We have about 650 partners all over the world. We have a big group and we have quite a few horses to manage and support their racing careers as well. BH: What's the biggest challenge when you have that many horses, that many partners? That's a lot of balls in the air at one time. TG: I don't really view it as is that difficult to challenge because we have such a great team. We have 16 people on the team. Everyone knows what their roles are and everyone's really good at what they do. We're successful because of the quality of the team that we have. A lot of that comes from Terry's integrity, and that he's always going to try to do the right thing. When we keep that in our focus, we're going to get good results. BH: What about you personally? How many how many horses do you have? TG: That number's 35 that I have an interest in. I have 14 in training right now, we do have ownership interest in some broodmares and foals as well. BH: Any of them you're really excited about? TG: I will say this, my favorite horse that I own a piece of with West Point Thoroughbreds is Signator. I wouldn't say he's our best horse, but I fell in love with him. He's a big great Tapit colt and he's got a great personality. The horse that perhaps I'm most excited about right now that I have an interest in is Sedona, a filly by Curlin and out of Bobby Flay's America. (Sedona is a full sister to graded stakes winner First Captain, also campaigned in partnership by West Point Thoroughbreds.) BH: You mentioned how Terry is taking a bigger role in the industry. From your vantage point from the things that you've experienced, and you're seeing, day in and day out, where do you see the biggest areas of need in the industry, not just how it pertains to West Point Thoroughbreds but the industry as a whole? TG: Let me elaborate for two seconds about Terry. My coming on board was really a plus one, an additional executive to help with the growth of the company to allow Terry to spend more time with industry leaders, creating new industry partners (to) enhance our partnerships for our partners. … I can handle some of the roles that Terry has taken on in the past, for example, every time we have a new partner, I set up a new call or set up a call with these new partners. I'm able to provide a partner perspective because I was a new partner 2021. I can really relate to what these individuals are going through as a new partner. That's been one of the areas that I've really focused on. Terry also wanted me to look at things related to West Point with a new or different set of eyes. What are some of the things that I've been able to do in my past that could enhance what we're doing with West Point? What can we do better? How can we continue to grow and just get a little bit of a different perspective? I'm more of a glass-half-full guy. I'm optimistic about things. I'm optimistic about the industry. I'll give you one example. From my past when I was a partner in the early-to-mid '90s, one of the key talking points within the industry was about drug regulation, how each state has their own programs. How none of the states are consistent with one another. I found it kind of shocking and alarming that when I got back in in 2021 those issues were still being discussed. No real significant improvement had happened in 30 years. With the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority in place, I feel that's a significant positive change for horse racing. I realize it's a work in progress, I realize that there's going to be continued changes and improvements within HISA as we move forward because it's not a finished product. HISA will get better. That's going to help the game in general. I get frustrated being from Texas because Texas has not adopted HISA for several reasons. And at some point, that's going to have to happen or will happen. HISA is a real positive thing for horse racing. I guess the negatives are California and Texas to a degree as well. I would like to think there are smart enough people in the industry that will figure out a way to keep California afloat and also to get a better product out there. I don't pretend to have the answers necessarily. But I would like to think positives can happen out there. At some point, I think it will happen in Texas and hypothetically if Texas and California were both doing well, then the industry itself is going to take off. BH: Talk about some of the horses that are under the West Point umbrella that you're excited about that are on the track now? TG: As opposed to Flightline? I will say this: We have experienced tremendous growth since 2018 moving forward, including the huge ripple effect of Flightline. It has really helped West Point's model of racing, and that's been a godsend to all of horse racing to have a generational horse like that. That's been awesome. We have a lot of good horses with a lot of good trainers. Vahva won (the Derby City Distaff Stakes) on Kentucky Derby Day. (Trainer) Cherie DeVaux has got a number of our horses and she's done a really good job. That will be one for sure. We've got Sedona—everybody's pretty excited about her—and we have a lot of good 2-year-olds. This is probably the best crop of 2-year-olds we've ever had. Many of those we bought as yearlings at Fasig-Tipton's The Saratoga Sale and also at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. BH: What can you tell us about you that most people don't know? TG: I'm one of those guys that, frankly, kind of wears my emotions on my sleeve. Most people I'm feeling about things at the moment. I'm a die-hard Parrothead. I went to 36 Jimmy Buffett shows. Another thing is that my great-grandfather is buried in the front row of the Notre Dame cemetery. When I fell in love with Notre Dame at age 4, I had no idea. I didn't know that at all.