08/25/2011 11:05AM

Q&A: Rick Porter

Barbara D. Livingston

Rick Porter, 71, is a native of Wilmington, Del., and resides in Florida. Porter’s business, Porter Automotive Group, was started by his grandfather in 1925. Porter operates Fox Hill Farms, which has campaigned such standouts as Jostle, Round Pond, Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Kodiak Kowboy. This year’s stable star is Havre de Grace, whose rivalry with Blind Luck has captivated racing fans, and who is scheduled to face males in the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 3 at Saratoga.

What made you decide to get into horse racing? I have enjoyed horse racing since I was a kid. My parents took me to Delaware Park many times. Through a mutual friend, I met [trainer] John Servis and I was comfortable enough to buy a couple inexpensive claiming horses.

Was Jostle your first really good horse? Jostle was my first Grade 1 stakes winner. I never knew how much more fun it could be for my family and me to walk to the winner’s circle for a Grade 1 trophy presentation.

What compels you to participate in racing? I played lots of competitive sports in high school and squash for many years while working. I love competition. Horse racing is one of the greatest competitive sports I can think of.

Do you participate in racing as a sport or as a business? I participate in racing as both a sport and business. Surrounding myself with the best possible people makes it easier to succeed as a business.

Who is the best horse you’ve owned? I think Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Havre de Grace are all up there in a tie for number one. It is hard to leave out the others like Rockport Harbor, Round Pond, and Kodiak Kowboy.

How many horses do you own, and how many horses do you buy each year? I have about 30 horses in my stable once all of my 2-year-olds get to the track. That’s a typical number. I buy about 12-14 each year depending on the market. I have a budget that stays the same, and sometimes I can buy more while staying on budget.

How have you been able to come up with so many high-class horses, especially 3-year-olds? Fox Hill Farm’s success is mainly based on the people who work together to make up the team. Tom McGreevy plays a large part in our success by going to all the sales making shortlists for us to review together. Luck always plays a part in the success, as well as the quality of the trainers.

How did your devotion to progeny of Unbridled’s Song come to pass? Tom McGreevy and I have always been attracted to the athleticism of the Unbridled’s Song yearlings. He seems to stamp out a lot of foals that look alike. Also, they are fast and will go a distance of ground. They’ll also give their all.

Are you a hands-on owner? I’m a very hands-on owner and I go out to the tracks often in both the morning and afternoon.

Can you talk a bit about the emotions that came with Eight Belles’s Kentucky Derby? I think everyone all over the world who were watching were terribly distressed when they heard she had been put down. My family and I were in total shock, and it took us a long time to recover.

When did it become apparent that Havre de Grace was developing into the horse she’s become? I fell in love when Tom McGreevy showed her to me at Keeneland. I said that we were going to buy her unless the price became ridiculous. I knew shortly after she arrived at Tony Dutrow’s barn that she had the potential to be the real deal. As for where she rates among all my horses, she’s at the top with Hard Spun and Eight Belles, but she’s still writing her story.

You were on record challenging Blind Luck to meet you in the Personal Ensign. What makes you think you can turn the tables on her? We’re tied with one win each this year, so it’s not a matter of turning the tables on her. I respect Blind Luck immensely, but I’m confident in my filly, just as I’m sure they’re confident in theirs.

Why have you chosen to race Havre de Grace against males in the Woodward? I think we fit nicely in the Woodward. I feel her speed figures show she can compete with the boys in this race. Also, the timing is good in planning how to get her to the Breeders’ Cup in the best possible way.

Peak form versus peak form on a neutral court at 1 1/8 miles, who would you back: Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta? Rachel Alexandra.

What else do you aspire to in racing? I would love to win the Kentucky Derby and even the Triple Crown.

Have you given much thought to racing’s ills and what might be done to better it? I have discussed our problems with national legislators in Washington and many chairmen of racing associations. Racing could be fixed once and for all if the U.S. government amended the 1978 Interstate Horse Racing Act with a mandate for Thoroughbred racing to form a national governing body with a commissioner, just as in every other sport.