01/06/2016 11:42AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Runhappy

Debbie Roma

James McIngvale is a legendary self-promoter whose marketing skills helped him turn a one-man operation into Gallery Furniture, which has three locations in the Houston area and annual revenue in excess of $150 million.

McIngvale showed early on how he could think outside the box or, more accurately, the rectangle by donning a mattress during his “Mattress Mac” television ads. In 2014, he paid out a reported $7 million following a Super Bowl promotion in which he guaranteed to refund the money of anyone who spent more than $6,000 on furniture if the Seahawks beat the Broncos. Seattle won 43-8.

But when it comes to his amazing 3-year-old Runhappy, the favorite to win the Eclipse Award as the nation’s champion sprinter of 2015, McIngvale chooses to stay in the background.

“He’s the one up for an Eclipse, not me,” McIngvale said. “It’s all him. He’s gone out and done the running. I just watch. He’s a gift from God.”

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

Runhappy burst into the national consciousness with a powerful front-running victory in the King’s Bishop at Saratoga, but McIngvale realized he had something special in December 2014 when the son of Super Saver and the Broken Vow mare Bella Jolie won his debut at Turfway Park.

“He got left 12 lengths behind the field, stopped and got a hamburger and fries when he blew the turn, and still won by eight lengths,” McIngvale said. “We knew he was good after he ran that crazy race.”

Runhappy, a $200,000 Keeneland yearling buy, made his second start in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds in January but tired to finish ninth and came out of the race with a stress fracture.

“That was my fault,” McIngvale said. “We moved him up in class too quick.”

For his first two starts, Runhappy was trained by Laura Wohlers, who is McIngvale’s racing manager, sister-in-law, and an employee at Gallery Furniture. When Runhappy resurfaced in a first-level optional-claiming race at Indiana Grand in July, Maria Borell was his new conditioner.

Runhappy, bred by Wayne, Gray, and Bryan Lyster in Kentucky, won the Indiana race by five lengths and then took an optional race at Ellis Park by 2 3/4 lengths before heading to New York for the King’s Bishop. He has since won the Grade 3 Phoenix and Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita.

In all, Runhappy won 6 of 7 starts in 2015 and $1.48 million. Edgar Prado rode him in the King’s Bishop, Phoenix, and Breeders’ Cup but was injured in mid-December, so Gary Stevens was aboard in the Malibu.

“The Breeders’ Cup was certainly the high point of the year, but winning the King’s Bishop was not far behind,” McIngvale said. “Going to Saratoga and winning was special.”

The morning after the Breeders’ Cup, McIngvale, Wohlers, and Borell had a very public breakup, and Wohlers again took over as Runhappy’s trainer.

Following the Malibu, Wohlers said Runhappy’s major objective in the first half of 2016 would be the Met Mile at Belmont Park.

Immediate plans call for Runhappy to receive a well-deserved rest.

“We are going to bring him home to Texas for a couple of months,” McIngvale said.