2012 Preakness Stakes: Under Armour founder takes fast track to Triple Crown race with Tiger Walk
By Liz Clarke,
BALTIMORE — The odds were stacked against 23-year-old Kevin Plank when he launched Under Armour, a high-tech sportswear start-up, in 1996 with the audacious goal of snatching a bit of Nike’s market share.
Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, the odds will be similarly stacked against Plank’s latest plucky contender, Tiger Walk, in the 137th Preakness Stakes.
Installed at 30-1 odds, Tiger Walk is the first thoroughbred from Plank’s Sagamore Farm to compete in the Preakness. And his participation in the 11-horse field represents another fast-track success for Plank, who plunged into the horseracing business five years ago with the goal of restoring an historic Maryland landmark and reviving a once-proud industry in his home state.
“Carrying the Maryland banner means a lot to us,” said Tom Mullikin, general manager of Sagamore Farm and a former high-school football teammate of Plank’s.
The two grew up in Montgomery County watching the Preakness on television. As teenagers they took in the pageantry and parties from the raucous infield. Saturday they’ll be cheering on their stable’s point of pride against a field that’s expected to be dominated by Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another and the speedy runner-up, Bodemeister.
“We realize we’re long shots,” Mullikin said of Tiger Walk, who finished fourth in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. “But he’s doing well, so we’re going to give it a shot.”
Tiger Walk doesn’t have to win, or even place, to make the day a success for Sagamore Farm, a majestic, 530-acre property once owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt, which lies roughly 15 miles northwest of Pimlico. In the context of Plank’s long-term goal of breeding the next Triple Crown winner, Saturday’s race represents a coming-out party on a hospitable dance floor.
“It’s a big dream to have horses in the Triple Crown from Sagamore,” says lead trainer Ignacio Correas IV, who has worked with the Kentucky-bred Tiger Walk since he was purchased as a yearling. “Maryland is our home base. We live here. We train here. To be in a Triple Crown race at home, it’s more than you can ask.”
Tiger Walk is familiar with Pimlico, having trained on its course before. And he’s sure to have the biggest throng of corporate supporters of any 30-1 competitor entrant in race history. Plank, now 39, has long used the Preakness to entertain Under Armour clients and friends. With Tiger Walk running, the ranks of well-heeled revelers will swell.
No corporate tent looms larger in Pimlico’s infield than that of Sagamore Farm, adorned with Under Armour logos and occupying prime, trackside real estate near the entrance of Turn 1. Saturday it will be filled with high-profile college coaches and professional athletes.
Tiger Walk will also be cheered in Alabama, given that his name pays homage to Auburn football’s pregame ritual in which the players (outfitted in Under Armour gear) walk through a gauntlet of fans in what’s known as the “Tiger Walk.”
Correas describes Tiger Walk as a gentle, kind and hard-working horse. Cornering isn’t his strength, however — to the point that Mullikin wishes the 13 / 16-miles Preakness were run entirely on a straightway, with no turns at all. So to compensate, Correas will send Tiger Walk out with blinkers.
“He was losing ground in all of his races in the turns,” Correas said. “It’s like he was losing interest, but then he always finishes very strong. So we want to give him a little more focus.”
He’ll start Saturday’s race from the unenviable No. 1 post but have the benefit of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, a two-time Preakness winner (Real Quiet, 1998; Big Brown, 2008), aboard.
And in a field of 11 thoroughbreds, even the far-fetched is possible.
“That’s the great thing about horse racing,” Mullikin notes. “Surprises can come from anywhere.”