03/13/2013 3:42PM

Kentucky Derby: Wests have strong quartet on trail

Shigeki Kikkawa
Treasury Bill, owned by Gary and Mary West, will start in Saturday's Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.

Gary West always has taken the long view, which is why, even though he’s holding a hot hand right now with his Kentucky Derby prospects, he’s soberly realistic about what the next seven weeks could hold.

West and his wife, Mary, have four well-regarded contenders, including Treasury Bill, who was entered Wednesday in the Rebel Stakes on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. They also own Flashback, who was second in the San Felipe last week and is headed to the Santa Anita Derby; Code West, second in the Risen Star and returning to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby on March 30; and Power Broker, who is rapidly nearing a return to racing and could make a Hail Mary play for a berth in the May 4 Kentucky Derby in a race like the Santa Anita Derby or the Wood Memorial, both April 6.

The Wests also entered the longshot Title Contender in the Rebel, and his speed could help set up Treasury Bill’s late run.

“I’ve been in racing 30 years, and if I’m around another 30 years, I may not have as many legitimate prospects as this time, but they still have a lot to prove,” West said in an interview earlier this week. “Good horses are hard to find. We had 21 in this crop, and to have four at this level now, that’s something I’ve never had.”

Yet the road to the Derby is filled with potential potholes, with which the Wests are all too familiar. They had their first Derby runner in 1993, when Rockamundo finished 17th of 19. Dollar Bill was 15th of 17 in 2001, and High Limit was last of 20 in 2005. They experienced even harsher misfortune in 2002, when Buddha, one of the top contenders for that year’s Derby following his win in the Wood Memorial, was withdrawn on the eve of the race with a bruised foot.

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The Wests maintain a high-class stable, and their fortunes have reached new heights since moving the bulk of their stable to California, coinciding with them becoming year-round residents of Rancho Santa Fe. In recent months, they have won Grade 1 races with Power Broker as well as the filly Book Review.

In concert with racing manager Ben Glass, the Wests purchased Power Broker ($360,000), Code West ($340,000), and Treasury Bill ($230,000) as yearlings, and Flashback ($260,000) as a weanling. West said he would rather spend that money on several horses than one horse for $1 million.

“I think for between $150,000 and $450,000 you can buy a racing prospect by plenty of good sires out of plenty of good mares,” West said. “That’s our market. There are certain sires and mares we like.”

The Wests are both 66, but both look far younger. They are self-made billionaires, and do not flaunt their wealth, preferring to wear casual clothes to the track – “I’m a jeans kind of guy,” Gary West said. Their background is illustrative of why they are competitive in racing and why they are now weighing in on the third-rail of American racing, medication, with their support of Lasix and their offer to fund a study at the Breeders’ Cup.

Gary West grew up in tiny Harlan, Iowa, whose population in the 2010 census was 5,106. His parents owned a bowling alley.

“They didn’t drink or gamble,” he said.

West remembers reading about racehorses as a teenager, then becoming enamored of racing at age 19, after moving to Omaha, Neb., where Ak-Sar-Ben was thriving.

Omaha also is where the Wests grew a small telemarketing firm founded by Mary into an international conglomerate whose clients were in banking, retail, and technology. If you’ve ever called 911, used video conferencing, or consulted with psychic Miss Cleo, you probably were interacting with part of West Corporation. The Wests sold the company in 2006, after which Forbes estimated their net worth at $2.7 billion.

They bought their first horse in 1980. Gary West said he got his “butt kicked in football, so I took up spectator sports” as an outlet for his competitiveness.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“I’m a Type-A personality,” he said. “I don’t like to lose. But I’ll be the first guy to walk up to someone who won and say, ‘Congratulations, go get your picture taken in the winner’s circle.’ I’m a big believer in karma. What goes around comes around.”

The Wests have a foundation that works with low-income seniors and disadvantaged youth in San Diego and Omaha. They also fund service dogs for seniors and disabled veterans. And their passion is medical research, specifically trying to lower the cost of health care.

To that end, the Wests in 2009 made an initial outlay of $45 million to found the West Wireless Health Institute, partnering with Scripps Health and Qualcomm, two of the San Diego area’s most-respected business entities. And in 2011, they put up $100 million to found the West Health Investment Fund, focusing on health-care technologies and services.

At the core of all these enterprises is Gary West’s belief that decisions should be data-driven, based on known facts, and it is why he recently put himself into the debate on exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, specifically the Breeders’ Cup’s decision to disallow Lasix in races for 2-year-olds.

“There are no scientific studies, no evidence, that this is the correct way to go,” West said. “It bothers me that at last year’s Breeders’ Cup, there was no scientific study done on EIPH. How many horses bled? How did they do after that? It was a blown opportunity.

“If there’s a study done that says Lasix is bad for horses, I won’t give it to my horses. But all the scientific evidence I’ve seen says that bleeding is bad for horses and that the most scientifically proven way to control EIPH is Lasix.”

So, West, through his attorneys, sent the Breeders’ Cup a letter, offering to put up $1 million to fund a study on Lasix.

“I put it up because I’m a seeker of the truth,” he said. “I want to know the truth. A definitive study needs to be done. I’m insisting this year that they do a scientific study and they make it transparent.”