Sol Kumin’s wild ride to the Triple Crown winner’s circle.
Sol Kumin loves to win. Whether he was ripping goals for Johns Hopkins in the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament or later launching a billion-dollar hedge fund named after one of his favorite spots on Nantucket, Kumin thrives on beating the field. But this spring, this forty-three-year-old Madaket summer resident set a new bar for victory that might just be impossible for him to replicate.
Winning the Triple Crown is widely regarded as the most coveted achievement in all of sports. In its 143-year history, only thirteen have ever taken home this holy grail of horse racing by winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in a single season. This spring, Sol Kumin’s horse Justify became that lucky number thirteen. Making the feat all the more improbable was that Kumin won the Triple Crown after only a handful of years since entering the competitive world of horse racing. What’s more, his race for the Triple Crown actually began on Nantucket.
After several seasons renting on the island, Kumin and his wife Elizabeth bought a small beach shack out in Madaket in 2004. “We knew that in five or fifteen years, it was going to end up in the ocean [due to erosion],” he says. “So, we moved it three or four times to where it is now.” With each move and subsequent renovation, Kumin became better and better friends with Jay Hanley of Hanley Development. When he wasn’t building houses on Nantucket, Hanley was launching another career owning race horses. He thought Kumin would enjoy the competition of the track. The two eventually teamed up and created Sheep Pond Partners with Nantucket summer residents Jim Carey and Jim Pallotta. They bought four horses, one of which became arguably the greatest filly in the world at the time.
“I didn’t know anything about horse racing,” Kumin says. “I’d been to a racetrack twice while I was in college.” Kumin attended Johns Hopkins where he was a star lacrosse player. Whenever his team was rated in the top four in the country heading into the NCAA tournament, Kumin and his teammates would spend their bye-week at the Preakness. “That was really my first foray at the track,” he said. “It was a little bit of a different experience than how we’ve been experiencing it in the last couple years.”
Kumin’s first breakout horse was Lady Eli, a filly named after his wife, Elizabeth. As a two-year-old, the thoroughbred won the Breeder’s Cup and then strung together six straight wins. She was being heralded as the greatest filly in the world when she stepped on a nail walking out of a drug test after her sixth victory. The wound morphed into a life-threatening disease called laminitis.
“When you get laminitis, the chances of living are low,” Kumin says. “The chances of racing again are even lower. And the chances of racing at a high level are even lower than that.” Defying all odds, Lady Eli made a miraculous comeback a year later, winning a slew of races and reclaiming her champion status in the winner’s circle.
Today, Kumin is part owner of around a hundred horses. In addition to his Nantucket-based Sheep Pond team, he also owns horses with former Patriots players Vince Wilfork and Wes Welker. His approach to horse racing is similar to that of his career as a hedge fund manager. “Our business has always been a talent business, finding young smart people and putting them in the right situations,” he says. “That’s what we do with horse racing. We’re trying to find young talented horses and put them with young talented trainers.”
Instead of taking the traditional approach of buying unraced horses at public auctions that they will name, raise and train, Kumin and his partners buy proven horses that are already racing. They study these horses, do due diligence, look at their racing patterns and gauge their potential ROI. He and his partners will then purchase a stake in the horse. Kumin doesn’t own any horses outright. “We’re trying to do everything differently,” he says. “And that has yielded us much higher results than really anyone has ever seen.”
This year’s results have been exceptional. At the Kentucky Derby, Kumin’s horses placed first, third and fifth. The Friday before the Derby, his filly Monomoy Girl won the fabled Kentucky Oaks. Capping it all off, of course, was taking the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes by way of a thoroughbred named Justify.
“You ever hear the expression ‘a man amongst boys’?” Kumin says. “That’s Justify. He’s bigger, stronger, more athletic, intimidating. He’s the alpha male. When he’s going around the track, the other horses almost stop and look at him… he’s a freak.” Justify is an American thoroughbred with blood ties to legendary steeds Secretariat and War Admiral. He literally ran the gauntlet, winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes by racing against fresh horses on short rest, at different distances and in varied conditions. “He’s a once in a lifetime horse,” Kumin says, “but I didn’t think he was going to win.”
The look of shock in Kumin’s face after winning at Belmont is unmistakable. In an iPhone video taken by his friend PGA golfer Matt Kuchar, Kumin is seen pulling his wife and children into a teary-eyed embrace after Justify beat out the field. After taking a moment to reflect, he was swept up in the media frenzy. “It’s one thing to win the Derby — you get ESPN and Sports Illustrated — but when you win the Triple Crown, it goes mainstream,” he says. “The last nine or ten weeks have been a whirlwind.”
Settling back on Nantucket, at the same cottage where this wild chase for the Triple Crown started, Kumin has finally had a chance to catch his breath. He’s not sure how long his career will last in the world of competitive horse racing, but until some other conquest catches his attention, Sol Kumin will continue to enjoy the ride.