The owners of the horses entered in the 117th running of the Kentucky Derby, scheduled for May 2 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, are a varied lot. They include an American CEO, a successful rapper, and a rambunctious Japanese entrepreneur. Allen E. Paulson, CEO of Gulfstream Aerospace and half-owner of Arazi, can count on a close duel with Tomonori Tsurumaki's A.P. Indy. And don't count out Hammer's entry, Dance Floor. For the skinny on their run for the roses, read on:
A RUN FOR THE ROSES BY WAY OF JAPAN
Some Derby day, Tomonori Tsurumaki may be even more pumped up than the other denizens of the Churchill Downs owners' boxes. The Tokyo-based developer is the first Japanese owner to enter the Kentucky Derby. And no matter where his steed, A. P. Indy, finishes, Tsurumaki will have fulfilled a decades-old dream. "There are no words to describe how excited I am just to be in this race," he whispers.
Tsurumaki, 49, thinks he has only a 50-50 chance of ousting top-ranked Arazi. But this maverick entrepreneur is used to beating the odds. Raised in poverty in northern Japan, Tsurumaki left home for Tokyo at age 15 after he was expelled from high school for fighting. Within a few years, he was running his own steel-products company. Branching into real estate, he went on to amass a fortune that he estimates, with a nod to the tax authorities, at $200 million. Business associates figure he's worth four times as much.
In the process of making his fortune, Tsurumaki has managed to alienate many in Japan's business Establishment. "I'm a weed the elite like to step on," he says. "But I'm the one who dares to try new challenges."
One of his most risky ventures is his 100-horse racing operation, into which he sinks about $7.5 million a year. Some of his equine investments have paid off big: Lindo Shaver, bought at the 1989 Keeneland (Ky.) auction, was Japan's champion two-year-old in 1991.
But in the U.S., Tsurumaki has had only mixed success since his first race 17 years ago. His biggest winner, Fair Judgement, captured the 1989 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park, Calif. He hopes for far more from A. P. Indy. The colt, sired by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, cost him $2.9 million at the 1990 Keeneland auction. "Buying a horse takes inspiration," he says. "You have to be willing to take the risk."
If A.P. Indy does capture the roses, Tsurumaki may choose not to bask in the publicity. Leery of anti-Japanese sentiment, he was actually relieved when a U.S. TV network broadcast a photo of the wrong man as the owner when the colt won at Santa Anita on Apr. 4.