When I read today in horse racing publications of B. Wayne Hughes’ formative years, it was easy to imagine his ambition and work ethic gave rise to dreams of what his life might be. He parlayed that work ethic into tremendous professional success, and then turned to horse racing. The revitalization of Spendthrift Farm, the rise of Malibu Moon and Into Mischief, the success of Beholder and the Derby victory of Authentic were dreams anyone involved in horse racing would love to see realized. But more than that, Hughes brought as many people along for the ride as he could, people who perhaps otherwise may have been on the sidelines of involvement in racing. It seems one from modest beginnings, such as Hughes, was ideally suited to realize what a gift that could be, to share his success and see it grow into dreams for others.
While I never knew him personally, I have seen firsthand what his influence in the racing industry meant. I went to the University of Kentucky in pursuit of a degree in Equine Science and Management, spurred by a deep-seated passion for racing. During the course of earning that degree, I was an intern at a smaller breeding farm where a client’s mares were boarded and managed. No doubt this client had dreams of racing success, even as she had to pursue them with only a few mares. Spendthrift Farm’s innovative breeding incentives made it a clear choice for several of the mares she owned to visit and that was my introduction to what such an approach meant to breeders who wanted to make a go of being involved in racing but couldn’t buy the top mares or visit the A.P. Indys. I accompanied one of those mares to the Spendthrift breeding shed. It had been the first day of spring, more than a handful of years ago.
More recently, I paid a visit to Spendthrift’s training division, Silver Springs, to meet a yearling American Pharoah filly out of Keertana, who would be named American Heiress when the time came to select a registered name. The occasion of meeting her was part of the continuing evolution of Hughes embracing ideas that would bring racing involvement to greater numbers of people. He made a commitment to MyRacehorse and from that time of it involving a few yearlings, it spread to encompass involving people in microshares of Authentic, already a top 3-year-old when Spendthrift acquired an interest in the colt by their own stallion Into Mischief. From there, Hughes further dove all in to supporting MyRacehorse, offering a multitude of yearlings they purchased at auction in partnership.
The chance to be involved even in a small manner with the progeny of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in my lifetime, was irresistible. But more than that, the photos of the filly sold her. Yes, I was smitten and the lure of what could be was strong.
That same lure – of what may be – drove the interest in Authentic, and when he won the Derby it was elation of a rare type, and now that I think of it, which most often were brought to me by the highs of racing. And the other side of that is, as for many, 2020 was a rough year. Authentic was the only bright spot of that year, and I will always be grateful to Mr. Hughes for thinking yet again of how to make the dream accessible.
When Authentic went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and then arrived at Spendthrift shortly after to begin his retirement from racing, I watched on a live stream as Hughes stepped forward to greet his Kentucky Derby winner and his pride was evident. It was another shining moment of what that horse and this sport mean to many.
I think what a good life that would be to have lived, one where lofty dreams were realized that brought immense joy and where there was a commitment to share that joy.
It was a beautiful summer evening as I thought of these things. I went outside with my cat and he chased a stick I dragged along the ground. His exuberance at simple pursuits reiterated that we don’t need much of what advertising and so many other forces try to tell us we need. I found joy in his joy, in the moments in nature and away from phone or computer screens where so often people just seem to bicker and spread negativity more often than not. And those things, like seeing him chase the stick and finding joy in his joy because it was born of caring for him, and seeing Hughes’ happiness in taking in Authentic as he arrived at Spendthrift late last year, are simple but also real life. I need reminded to unplug from the wired world as many do but it is so much more meaningful when I do. Seeing Hughes’ dedication to racing and spreading the thrill of it to others, and seeing my cat delight in playing and how it uplifted me, reminded me that the best thing we can ever do in this life is love and share that love. That is the best impact a life can make. I know when my time comes, I will be glad people and animals I shared my life with will know that I was there for them and I will be grateful to have known what it means to feel that in return.
So, though I did not know Hughes personally, his love for racing and wanting to share that love made his life have a deep impact upon people he never met. I think of his family this evening, and how they are without him in the living world. Such a loss must reverberate deeply if he left such an impact on those who never knew him, and it is sad. But there is an indelible legacy such a life has left, and there is no doubt people’s lives were enriched because of him.
Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, and those who were impacted by him professionally; I’d imagine they will feel this void for a long time. I’ve gone through the grief journey myself several times in the past few years, and when I thought I’d never get past how all-consuming it is initially, time gradually made happy memories of times shared eclipse sadness. Never fully, no, but more than once seemed possible, and I wish that for all who knew Mr. Hughes, too. In due time.