Derby stars aren't just on track

May 04, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Not since Cheryl Ladd and Mickey Rooney starred in the television miniseries "Bluegrass" have so many show business folks descended on Kentucky.

A fifth of the field in this year's 120th Kentucky Derby is owned by some of the biggest names in show business, all running their first Derby starters.

There's Cubby Broccoli. His name doesn't appear with regularity in the tabloids. But he's the man who bought the film rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and transposed them to the screen.

At 85, Broccoli is hardly slowing down. In addition to running Brocco in the Kentucky Derby, he's on a worldwide search to cast a new super agent 007 in his 17th Bond film. Pierce Brosnan and Mel Gibson head the list on a poll recently conducted by "Entertainment Tonight," which has applied for credentials to cover the celebrities' activities at the Derby.

Then there's Burt Bacharach. It seems half the world at one time or another has hummed his schmoozy pop tunes that have won him two Academy Awards and numerous Grammys. For years he's bred horses in the Mid-Atlantic region, raced them in California and has now come up with his first good 3-year-old and Derby starter, Soul Of The Matter.

Derby celebrity No. 3 is Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records. He moved uptown, from Detroit to the posh Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air, after helping create such stars as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Gordy first got into racing through his association with Bruce McNall, who made a fortune dealing in rare coins and antiquities and is the owner of the Los Angeles Kings.

Gordy and McNall ended their professional relationship and now Gordy's Vistas Stable is making a name for itself. A year ago, Gordy hired trainer Rodney Rash to clean house, "to get rid of the [equine] garbage," Rash said, "and to buy a stable of runners that would compete with the class and style of someone of Gordy's stature."

One of those acquisitions is Powis Castle, purchased after winning his first two starts last fall at Churchill Downs and a Derby long shot after running second last month in the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park.

Rash said Gordy looks at owning the horses as "a family thing. His sister and Anna Gaye [Marvin Gaye's widow] come out all the time. If they are not at the track, they're at the OTBs."

The sight of all these wealthy, high-profile thoroughbred owners is a public relations dream, giving a boost to horse racing, which lately has been suffering a defeatist and dowdy image.

"No question about it. People like this help, although they've probably brought more attention to racing coverage in general than to the Derby," said Karl Schmitt Jr., vice president of corporate communications at Churchill Downs.

Tom Merritt, director of Thoroughbred Racing Communications, said his office "has had lots of inquiries" about Broccoli, Bacharach and Gordy, including more than usual interest from media outside the sports spectrum such as gossip columnists.

So what's it like training for the rich and famous?

"You'd think I would have been discovered by now," said Dick Mandella, who not only trains for Bacharach, but also for Hollywood producer Aaron Spelling and actor Ray Stark. "I give some of these guys my best lines. You'd think I'd at least have had a cameo on 'Beverly Hills 90210' [a Spelling show]."

Mandella said Bacharach is so nervous about Soul Of The Matter running in the Derby, "I'm going to buy him a goat [which settles a nervous thoroughbred].

"I've had his horse for a year and only heard from him a couple of times," Mandella added. "Now in the last three weeks, he's calling me every day."

Mandella said the horses are "an escape" for his Hollywood clients, "although I've never had one of them send me a horse and say 'Don't make any money with it.' "

Randy Winick, Broccoli's trainer who also had a few horses at one time for Sonny Bono, agrees that it's "a fun way" for the Hollywood crowd to spend their money.

"I think for some of them, it's a notoriety game. They get their names and pictures in the paper for owning horses and it fits their image. They like being stroked. And it also has something to do with ego. They like outdoing each other.

"Mr. Broccoli, however, takes the game a lot more seriously," Winick said. "He's in it for more than having his picture taken. I've had horses for him 10 years and he and his wife, Dana, are really into the sport. They want to come up with good horses."

Winick said more Hollywood types come to the track to visit "rather than to participate. You'd think there'd be a lot more of them in the game. A lot of them ride on their ranches in Malibu or keep horses at the [Los Angeles] Equestrian Center."

Such current show business celebrities as John Forsythe, Kevin Costner, Dick Van Patten and Herb Alpert have racing stables in California as well as Jerry Moss, chairman of A&M Records, and producer Brandon Chase, whose intended Derby starter, Irgun, was pulled out of the race last week with a sore foot.

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