You know Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale as the Moby Dick of sports bettors. But horse racing fans better recognize the Houston furniture magnate/betting whale as the owner of Eclipse Award-winning sprinter-turned-stallion Runhappy.
And one of Runhappy’s offspring, Joyful Cadence, runs for her sire’s second stakes progeny victory in Saturday’s Black-Type Purple Martin Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The $200,000 Purple Martin is for 3-year-old filly sprinters going six furlongs. It’s one of 11 Saturday races at Oaklawn on the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes undercard.
How Joyful Cadence, the second-longest shot on the morning line at 9/2, handles her first stakes outing is anyone’s guess. She is 1-for-2 in her two previous outings, debuting with a seventh in a Turfway Park January maiden special weight. Joyful Cadence backed that up with a gate-to-wire, 8 ¾-length romp in an Oaklawn maiden special weight on March 4.
En route, she increased her Equibase Speed Figures 31 points, from 62 to 93.
“She’s just a filly that understands what the game is about now,” trainer John Ortiz told Oaklawn’s Robert Yates. “She’s come back and worked a couple of times, and she still has some real good energy. I think it’s a good time to take a shot at black type in a stakes race.”
Runhappy won three Grade 1s in less than five months
Joyful Cadence’s sire knows a lot about black type. One of the top sprinters of his era, Runhappy won seven times in 11 starts. That record includes three Grade 1s over the last four months of 2015: the King’s Bishop at Saratoga, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and the Malibu Stakes. It also includes the Grade 3 Ogden Phoenix Stakes, sandwiched in between Runhappy’s King’s Bishop win and his Breeders’ Cup victory.
After Runhappy’s Breeders’ Cup victory, the horse became entangled in a legal battle between trainer Maria Borell and McIngvale’s racing manager and sister-in-law, Laura Wohlers. She fired Borell the day after the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, replacing her as Runhappy’s trainer. Borell sued for breach of contract and defamation. She alleged McIngvale never paid her the customary 10% purse cut for the horse’s victories.
On one hand, Borell joined a dubious club with some elite members. McIngvale has fired more than 30 trainers in 20 years, including Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and the late Bobby Frankel.
From sympathetic character to pariah
On the other hand, Borell’s story took a hideous and shocking turn when mere months after her firing, she and her father, Chuck, were charged with 43 counts of animal cruelty in Kentucky. That case concerned the abandonment of 43 horses at a farm once leased by her father.
Chuck Borell accepted a plea deal. Maria Borell disappeared and her former attorney, Richard Getty, withdrew the suit against McIngvale.
As for Runhappy, he took the next 9 ½ months off after his Malibu win, then came back for a fourth in a Grade 3 at Churchill Downs. A month later, he finished a disappointing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. McIngvale and Wohlers retired him afterward.
Runhappy occupies sacred ground
Now housed in Secretariat’s old barn at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, the 9-year-old Runhappy stands for $10,000. His first crop in 2020 disappointed, winning only four times in 26 starts.
But 2021 has been much kinder. Over a 25-day period from late January to late February, Runhappy’s progeny racked up eight victories. Leading that parade was 3-year-old colt Nicky The Vest, who won the first stakes race for his sire’s offspring when he captured the Black-Type Gander Stakes at Aqueduct.
That Valentine’s Day victory gave Nicky The Vest his second win in as many starts, illustrating the promise Runhappy displayed on the track.
That goes on display again on Saturday. Former Walmart executive William Simon paid $235,000 for Joyful Cadence at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The half-sister to last year’s Peter Pan Stakes runner-up Country Grammer, Joyful Cadence seeks her own black type as Runhappy’s first female stakes winner.
“Obviously, you get a little stakes win on a filly, any kind, you’re looking at increasing the broodmare value,” Ortiz said. “There’s a lot of interest in doing that with the fillies. Now the Runhappys, it’s something we’re all excited to see, how these horses have been developing. It looks like they’re developing a little bit better as 3-year-olds. Hopefully, we’re part of making history here with this stallion and this filly.”