When Jack Kent Cooke owned his first sports franchise, a baseball team in Toronto, he lived not far from Windfields Farm. As he watched Edward Taylor's operation grow into one of the most important thoroughbred farms in the world, Cooke admitted, "I half-envied Eddie. I used to say, 'Some day, some day.' "
When he bought the Los Angeles Lakers and built the Forum for them, that arena was located directly across the street from Hollywood Park. "I would go to the races there," Cooke said, "and I thought the sport was very, very exciting. I told myself, 'Some day, some day.' "
That day finally arrived on Wednesday. Jack Kent Cooke entered the thoroughbred racing and breeding business, and he did it in a fashion befitting a sports tycoon. The Washington Redskins' owner bought Elmendorf Farm in Lexington, Ky., one of the most prominent thoroughbred operations in America, for a price reportedly in the neighborhood of $50 million. He instantly became the owner of a 525-acre farm, 60 horses in training, 139 youngsters, 115 broodmares, five stallions and shares in many other stallions.
"I don't think I've ever been so happy," Cooke said.
Cooke had shelved his desire to get involved in the horse business because, he said, "I had so many things on my plate that I probably would have had a massive coronary thrombosis if I'd tried to add another one. But three years ago the Redskins were on the road, my other enterprises were doing swimmingly, and I decided that this was the time."
Cooke bought six yearling fillies for a total of $2 million to whet his appetite, but he had grander plans. He wanted to acquire a major horse farm in Kentucky, and as he pursued that aim he had several conversations with Elmendorf's owner, Maxwell Gluck. They didn't bear fruit, but when Gluck died in November, his will specified that the farm and the horses be sold as a package to ensure continuity.
Shortly after Gluck's death, five interested parties submitted sealed bids, and Cooke became owner of the farm that has been the country's leading breeder three times since 1973 and the leading owner twice during that period.
As he contemplates his new acquisition, Cooke sounds as excited as a kid unwrapping his presents on Christmas morning. He's thrilled that the value of Elmendorf's share in the stallion Danzig has skyrocketed in recent weeks, as Danzig has shattered all the records for a first-year sire. He rhapsodizes about the foaling barn at Elmendorf: "It's really a joy; it's as impressive as the Chrysler building (which Cooke also owns)."
Cooke's typical management style is to hire top-class, independent-minded people (like Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs of the Redskins) but also to become closely involved in the operation himself. In this new venture he already has his key people, advisor George Blackwell and farm manager Jim Brady, but Cooke's personal role will be a low-key one for a while. He knows he has a lot to learn about the thoroughbred game, but eventually he and his family will put their stamp on Elmendorf Farm.
"We're the sixth owner of Elmendorf in 110 years," Cooke said. "I have a son, John, and two grandsons, so we ought to be good for the next 60 years."
Cooke was talking on his first day as the farm's owner about the possibility of winning the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown -- and more. "The ultimate objective would be -- what shall we call it? -- the Triple Triple Crown: the Super Bowl, racing's Triple Crown and the World Series for the Washington Senators."
At least two of these goals are within the realm of possibility.