05/30/2014 3:13PM

Hovdey: A fraction away from joining the 1 percenters

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Mickey Taylor knows just how Steve Coburn and Perry Martin feel, coming from a place in the Thoroughbred world so far removed from the bluegrass of Kentucky and the ivied walls of Belmont Park to try and win the Triple Crown.

“After Triple Crown winners from Meadow Stable, and Calumet, and King Ranch, there we were with a horse bought at public auction,” Taylor said, harking back to the spring of 1977. “We weren’t just from the far side of the moon. We were from somewhere out past Mars.”

Actually, it was the town of White Swan, deep in Washington lumber country, where Mickey and Karen Taylor lived modestly as partners in the ownership of Seattle Slew, with Jim and Sally Hill. By the time the 1977 Triple Crown rolled around, Seattle Slew was already well known as the champion 2-year-old. But Taylor was still the “lumberman from the Northwest” who wasn’t about to quit his day job until his black colt realized his full potential.

“And if he hadn’t,” Taylor said, “I’d still be cutting trees.”

Perry Martin owns Martin Testing Laboratories, a Northern California quality assurance company specializing in high-tech materials. Steve Coburn works for a Nevada firm that manufactures magnetic strips. To get an idea of the company they hope to join next Saturday when their Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome goes for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, let’s take a romp through the list of those who have come before.

John Kenneth Levenson Ross, born in Ontario in 1876, was a yachtsman, philanthropist, and world-renowned deep-sea fisherman who inherited his fortune from his father, the co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Long before Ross went broke in the late 1920’s, he bred and raced top Thoroughbreds like Sir Barton, winner of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in 1919.

William Woodward Sr., also born in 1876 but in New York City, was 34 when he followed in the footsteps of his childless uncle as president of Hanover National Bank in New York, which later morphed into Manufacturer’s Hanover. Part of the inheritance was Belair Stud, which allowed Woodward to breed and race Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935), a son of Gallant Fox.

Samuel Doyle Riddle was born in 1861 in Pennsylvania town that carried the family name. From his father he inherited a booming textile manufacturing company that got its start making uniforms for Union soldiers during the Civil War. The family of Riddle’s wife, Elizabeth, also owned textile mills, affording the Riddles the luxury to invest freely in Thoroughbreds, among them Man o’ War and his son, the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral.

Warren Wright Sr., born in 1875 in Springfield, Ohio, had his father’s Calumet Baking Powder company handed to him in 1914. He sold it to Postum (later General Foods) for $32 million summer of 1929, just before the October stock market crash. Wright also inherited a Standardbred operation that he converted to producing Thoroughbreds like Whirlaway, winner of the 1941 Triple Crown, and Citation, winner of the Crown in 1948.

Robert Justus Kleberg Jr., born in 1896 in Corpus Christi, took over the operation of King Ranch – the largest cattle operation in Texas – largely because he was the grandson of ranch founder Richard King. Kleberg was also smart enough to invent a whole new line of cattle, called the Santa Gertrudes, and breed racehorses like Assault, winner of the 1946 Triple Crown.

Helen Bates “Penny” Chenery was born in 1922 in New Rochelle, N.Y., and was raised with all the advantages available to the child of Christopher Tompkins Chenery, the founder of Southern Natural Gas and later the proprietor of Meadow Stud, a Virginia horse farm. As Helen Tweedy, she assumed leadership of the farm when her father’s health failed in the late 1960’s and was rewarded with Secretariat’s Triple Crown sweep of 1973.

Unlike Ross, Woodward, Riddle, Wright, Kleberg and Chenery, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin did not come into this world as blue-blooded babies already incredibly rich. Then again, neither did the immigrant John Daniel Hertz, born Sandor Herz in what is now Slovakia, or Louis Wolfson, whose Lithuanian father migrated to Florida and raised seven children dealing in junk and scrap metal, or Mickey Taylor, who was logger in Washington like his father and father’s father before him.

However, Hertz already was fabulously wealthy from Chicago taxicabs and rental cars and the owner of a Derby winner, Reigh Count, 15 years before Count Fleet won the Triple Crown in 1943, while Wolfson, who virtually invented the hostile corporate takeover in the 1950’s, was head of a financial empire that included construction, media, and retail companies, not to mention a Thoroughbred operation that produced Horse of the Year Roman Brother long before 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

Mickey Taylor feels an affinity for the Martin and Coburn story, and not only because he identifies with the regular working guys who own the colt. Were it not for Seattle Slew – sire of A.P. Indy, who sired Pulpit, who sired Lucky Pulpit – there would be no California Chrome. Now there’s a chance they will join racing’s most exclusive club.

“It would be nice,” Taylor said. “At least we could all go down and have a Jack Daniel’s instead of going upstairs to drink champagne.”