04/14/2011 3:32PM

Kentucky Derby: The Factor brings Bolton back to top of the game

Shigeki Kikkawa
Owner George Bolton has focused on quality rather than quantity.

George Bolton was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and he turned it into gold. Through financial intelligence, horse smarts, and a gregarious personality, Bolton has aligned himself with some of the leaders of the racing business, and his boutique operation, favoring quality over quantity, continues to reach new heights.

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On Saturday, The Factor, a colt Bolton owns in partnership and named, will try to secure a berth in the May 7 Kentucky Derby when he goes to the post as the strong favorite in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Bolton also is a co-owner of Astrology, one of the top 2-year-olds in the country last year who is still on the Derby trail despite a belated start to his 3-year-old campaign.

“It’s a very exciting time, to have two nice colts in the hunt,” Bolton said.

Bolton, 47, is a dynamic owner who has networked his way into a prominent position. He uses bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who represents Jess Jackson, too. Bolton joined Jackson and Satish Sanan in the acquisition of Curlin following his debut victory in 2007, and Bolton and Jackson have continued to do business, most notably with Astrology.

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“It made sense for us to be partners rather than to compete,” Bolton said.

Bolton’s partnership with The Factor is far more fascinating, for it aligns two gentlemen who could not be more opposite in terms of their political approach. Bolton said he first reserved the name with The Jockey Club because, in Scotland, the manager of an estate was called a factor. But, really, Bolton named the colt after Fox television commentator Bill O’Reilly – “who I watch every night,” Bolton said – and his show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” Bolton’s partner on the horse is David Shimmon, a semiconductor executive who races as Fog City Stable and is one of the biggest Democratic campaign donors in California.

“He and I travel a lot together, and we’re on a lot of planes together and we decided not to bring up politics, because it’s just not going to be an easy conversation to have,” Bolton said. “We just avoid politics when we sit down together.”

Bolton and Shimmon, along with their wives, are both prominent in San Francisco Bay Area social circles. They met through business. Bolton – currently the chief investment officer at West End Capital, an asset management company – in the late 1980s helped found the West Coast branch of banking giant Alex Brown, where he handled Shimmon’s account. Both shared a passion for racing, and Shimmon cut in Bolton for a share in the colt Roman Ruler after he defeated maidens in 2004. Roman Ruler went on to win the 2005 Haskell Invitational.

“After Roman Ruler, I knew if I got another good one, I wanted to cut him in,” Bolton said.

Bolton got his degree in economics at the University of Virginia, where he befriend Bill Farish, son of Lane’s End Farm’s William S. Farish III. That connection has continued to this day; Bolton has 12 mares at Lane’s End. And it was Bill Farish who first hooked up Bolton with Moynihan.

“Moynihan handles the runners, Farish handles the mares,” Bolton said. “Bill Farish gave me the opportunity to start at the ultra-high end.”

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Bolton’s interest in horses extends to his youth. He grew up on a 45-acre farm in the Maryland hunt country and rode in fox hunts. His father, Perry Bolton, won the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1998. Perry Bolton was vice president of corporate development for A.S. Abell, the company that published the Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun before it was acquired by Times Mirror. Bolton’s great-grandfather, Van Lear Black, a banker, was chairman of Abell for 15 years. And his grandmother, Ida Perry Black, was prominent in timber and steeplechase racing.

Bolton’s runners – currently numbering 15 – are spread largely between prominent trainers like Bob Baffert, who has The Factor; Steve Asmussen, who has Astrology and trained Curlin; and Todd Pletcher. Bolton also buys one older European turf horse each year that he places with Christophe Clement.

“I want trainers with lots of nice horses to measure against mine,” Bolton said.

Don’t think for a moment, though, that Bolton is some snooty snob. Far from it. He always introduces himself, not because he has forgotten your name, but because he never assumes anyone knows his name. At Del Mar last summer, he enjoyed hanging out mornings on a backside viewing stand where trainers watch workouts, where he often bantered with Baffert.

“I mean, we’re in tears every morning on the backside,” Bolton said. “He’s got a great sense of humor.”

And Bolton is not above helping a fledgling operation, witness his support of Summit Racing Inc., with whom Bolton co-owns the promising colt Flightofalifetime.

“George became a partner with Summit Racing because of his strong friendship with Brett Lindenbaum,” one of the co-founders of Summit, said Bob Ike, the other co-founder. “George has helped Summit not only by investing very good money, but by also giving us a strong endorsement that we use on our website, sharing his ideas on the business aspect of this sport, and with his loyalty. If George is willing to put his name next to ours in the program, it gives us instant credibility.”

With The Factor, Bolton has not gone crazy over the Derby. He wants to get there but is savvy enough about horses to know there are still hurdles to clear.

“He goes step by step,” Baffert said. “He’s been to the top. He knows how the business can be. The great thing about him is that he’s a funny son of a bitch. He just likes to have fun.”

So much so that Baffert pulled a prank on him the other morning, sending Bolton a cryptic text: “Call me.”

A minute later, Baffert’s phone rang with a breathless Bolton on the other end.

“Nothing’s going on,” Baffert said. “I just wanted to show someone the ringtone I have for you.”

Baffert’s ringtone for Bolton is the theme music from “Austin Powers.”

Two minutes later, Bolton sent a text to Baffert, “Literally did not breathe for one minute.”

Yeah, baby.

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