Updated on 09/17/2011 11:05AM

Best $900,000 he's ever spent


ARCADIA, Calif. - B. Wayne Hughes has built Public Storage into a thriving nationwide company, putting him among the country's 400 richest people as listed by Forbes magazine. At the same time, he has been curiously unlucky in another of his passions, owning racehorses.

Despite pouring large amounts of money and emotion into the sport, Hughes has won just one Grade 1 race, with Joyeux Danseur, who captured the 1998 Early Times Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. He has weathered questionable advice from previous trainers and bloodstock agents, yet the enthusiasm has not waned for the genial 69-year-old Hughes. Now, his perseverance is paying off and he is enjoying the best horse he has ever owned.

Hughes owns the exciting 3-year-old colt Atswhatimtalknbout, whose glittering pedigree, apparent longing for distance races, and stylish victories have made him a rising star on the Kentucky Derby scene, even though he has yet to run in a stakes race. On Sunday, Atswhatimtalknbout will make his stakes debut, in Santa Anita's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes, in which he will be part of a strong field that is expected to include Domestic Dispute, Man Among Men, Siberland, and Ten Cents a Shine. The San Felipe is one of five graded stakes for 3-year-olds this weekend, including the $1 million Florida Derby.

"I have fun with all my horses, even the claiming horses, but not this much fun," Hughes said Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. "Horses for me are like health insurance. In racing, you're always looking forward. For an old guy, that's good for your health. I like the people in racing, the horses, the atmosphere."

He also wants to promote the sport as much as he can, which is why he was amenable to selling 10 percent of Atswhatimtalknbout to a group of Hollywood investors, including Steven Spielberg and several of the principals in the movie "Seabiscuit," such as director Gary Ross. He certainly did not do it because he needs the money; Hughes's net worth, according to Forbes magazine, is $1.6 billion, placing him 122nd on the 2002 edition of the Forbes 400.

Hughes credited Chris McCarron, the Hall of Fame rider who worked on "Seabiscuit" after retiring last year, as being instrumental in bringing the parties together. They were to meet late Wednesday to iron out terms of the deal.

"Chris McCarron was generous to get publicity for Santa Anita and to promote racing and at the same time make me happy and the buyers happy," Hughes said. "A lot of good press has come out of this because of Chris's good work."

Hughes is a regular during training hours at Santa Anita. He is approachable, friendly, and quick to mix it up in the daily verbal sparring at Clocker's Corner. He likes to joke with his primary trainer, Ron Ellis. They have an easygoing relationship that transcends business.

"Everything that's happened to me in the sport has been a very good education for me," Hughes said, diplomatically, when asked about his previous experiences in racing. "I'm very happy to have Ron Ellis calling the shots for our program."

Hughes, on the advice of Ellis, adviser Bob Feld, and farm manager Seth Semkin, purchased Atswhatimtalknbout for $900,000 at a 2-year-old in training auction 13 months ago in Florida. Ellis said he was attracted to the A.P. Indy colt because "for a big horse, he was pretty agile.

"He's cat-like. You wouldn't think that, because he's so big. He's got a big, long stride. He's 16-3 hands. He might even touch 17."

Ellis is preternaturally conservative. Atswhatimtalknbout came around far quicker than Ellis envisioned. He was nearing a race last summer at Del Mar, but came up with sore shins after working six furlongs one morning.

"I was kind of happy, because I didn't want to run him that early, at Del Mar," Ellis said. "We fired his shin. Everything went fine. I was going to run him opening day at Santa Anita, but I thought he needed another work."

So, instead of first racing Dec. 26, Atswhatimtalknbout did not make his debut until Jan. 4. In an eye-catching performance, Atswhatimtalknbout passed nine rivals and made up 10 lengths in the final quarter-mile to win going six furlongs.

Atswhatimtalknbout stretched out around two turns on Jan. 24 and finished third in a first-level allowance race, then won a race at the same condition on Feb. 20. His Beyer Speed Figures have increased in every start, topped by a 105 last time.

If all goes as planned after the San Felipe, Atswhatimtalknbout will return in the April 5 Santa Anita Derby - giving him five starts at this meet - before heading to the Kentucky Derby.

"It's a pretty solid, aggressive campaign to run five times at Santa Anita," Ellis said. "Even after he broke his maiden, I didn't get all caught up in it, because I knew everything had to go right. The time schedule was so tight, he couldn't afford to miss a day or two to get the proper seasoning. I figured there would be some setback along the way, just from the weather we get in the winter.

"But we've been very lucky with the weather. Every time it has rained, it's been the day after he worked. Now, the goal is within sight. There's still a long way to go, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

In other Derby developments:

* Cherokee's Boy and Gimmeawink are heading north from Maryland for Sunday's $200,000 Gotham Stakes, which will be run at one mile and 70 yards on the inner dirt course at Aqueduct. So many horses are possible for the race that it may be split into two divisions.

* Mike Smith rode Ocean Terrace to victory in Saturday's El Camino Real Derby, but he will surrender the mount in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5 because Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, will make her first start of the year that day in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Bob Hess Jr., the trainer of Ocean Terrace, said Kent Desormeaux and Gary Stevens are being considered for the mount.

* Bob Baffert on Wednesday said he is still not sure where Composure, the Santa Anita Oaks winner, will make her next start. He said his planning depended on the performance of Santa Catarina, a 3-year-old filly who like Composure is owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, in Wednesday's second race at Santa Anita. Santa Catarina won that race by five lengths.

* Neil Drysdale has yet to decide where Ministers Wild Cat, the second-place finisher in the El Camino Real Derby, will run next. "I think he's still green," Drysdale said. "If he's going to go to the Kentucky Derby, I think he's going to need two more races."

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson