Among the quaint shops and slices of everyday Americana that line South Main Street in Springboro sits an old house that’s always had a lot more going on inside it than passersby could tell.
Built around 1833 and owned by an abolitionist family, it’s thought to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad and may have long forgotten escape tunnels buried nearby.
Today, the house’s bricks are painted brown, its shutters are black and a light blue flag hangs out front.
“I’m sure people drive up and down the street and don’t actually realize what we do in here,” Lee Midkiff said with a smile.
The old house is now home to Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, one of the newest, most successful ownership syndicates in horse racing. Run by Aron Wellman and Midkiff — with offices in Del Mar, Calif. and Springboro — the operation allows people of all walks of life to have ownership pieces of some of the best horses in the sport.
Midkiff shared a laugh the other day with the two women he works with when he described Eclipse as “the biggest sports franchise in Springboro.” With a shrug now, he adds “though I don’t know if that has any significance here.”
It might not mean much to the congregation of the South Dayton Church of Christ next door or the folks lined up for ice cream at the K & W a couple of blocks away, but in thoroughbred racing — and especially today and Saturday at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. — it has everyone taking notice.
The Breeders’ Cup features 15 all-star races run for a total purse of $25 million.
“I don’t know where you put thoroughbred racing in terms of pro sports — if it’s among the Top 10 or Top 15 — but in terms of major sports, here we sit in a little office in Springboro and we’re running for three world championships this weekend,” Midkiff said.
Eclipse and Hollywood film producer Gary Barber own heralded three-year-old filly In Lingerie, who has a 12-1 morning line in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf race. Eclipse colt Capo Bastone is a 15-1 choice in the $2 million Juvenile and their filly, Tara From the Cape, is 12-1 in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Todd Pletcher trains In Lingerie and Tara, while John Sadler trains Capo Bastone.
”There’s only a handful of owners out of the 189 pre-entries who have three or more horses running,” Midkiff said. “And that’s what’s so surreal. In our stable we only have 20 runners on the track, so 15 percent of our active roster is staring at Breeders’ Cup races.
“And what’s also pretty amazing is that we only started Eclipse just over a year ago.”
This year Eclipse horses have won seven stakes races and just over $1.5 million in 68 starts . That’s more stakes wins than any other public stable in America, Midkiff said.
And the success carries back into the community through Eclipse’s charity efforts with Susan G. Komen Greater Cincinnati — the regional affiliate of the breast cancer foundation — and New Vocations, the race horse adoption program that includes a farm in Laura and takes in former thoroughbreds and standardbreds.
This weekend, a percentage of In Lingerie’s winnings again will go to Komen, which already has received $29,000 of the filly’s earnings this year.
From Springboro to the Derby
Surprisingly, the 38-year-old Midkiff has only been involved in racing a little over three years. Back then he was the CEO of Springboro-based CIN Legal Data Services, which provided information for law firms.
He became involved with Team Valor, another syndication company, and bought shares of several thoroughbreds, including Animal Kingdom, which won the 2011 Kentucky Derby, and Pluck, which won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
In August 2011, he and Wellman, the Valor vice president and a California horseman of note, formed their own syndication company and since then have purchased a stable full of runners from sales rings, off the tracks and from various spots in Europe, including England, Scotland and Ireland.
Their centerpiece horse — In Lingerie — was scheduled to run the trumpeted Kentucky Oaks filly race the day before the Kentucky Derby, but they scratched her a week before the race, a move, Midkiff said, that likely had some people wondering about the fledgling organization:
“I know people said, ‘Who in the world would not run in the Oaks?’ But the more we looked at it, the more we felt we should opt out so we accomplish what we wanted with her this year.
“Derby Week is tough on horses and if you look at those that ran this year, several are already retired from racing or struggling. We wanted to build a horse that would be in the picture for the three year old horse of the year, be competitive in the marquee races at Saratoga and hopefully land a place in the Breeders’ Cup.
“And she’s done all that.
In Lingerie won the Grade I Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico and Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway this year and has hit the board in all seven of her starts. She’s won $712,265.
“Our track record now speaks for itself.” Midkiff said. “And our business model is working.
“I know to some it bucks the status quo of what, to some extent, is a blue blood sport, but this industry desperately needed younger blood to stop a downward slide and we have brought a lot of new people into the game.”
Among the 70 partners Eclipse has amassed for its 20 thoroughbreds are local landscaper Marty Grunder and Mason’s Russ Russell.
As Midkiff put it: “Whether it’s a landscaper in Dayton, an OBGYN in Texas or a guy who sells combines in Manitoba, thanks to Eclipse, they’re all able to compete now at the highest level of the game for some very big money.”
A family affair
Midkiff — who is raising his two children, 10-year old Chloe and 5-year-old Holden in his Springboro-area home — already has had a big week. Sunday he hosted a Halloween party for Holden and 21 of his kindergarten pals.
Tuesday night he took the two kids out trick or treating and early Wednesday morning the three of them flew to California for the Breeder’s Cup weekend.
When Midkiff says Eclipse has a familial component to it, he means it. This summer the children accompanied him to the famed Royal Ascot in England to watch one of their horses run and then they spent the summer at Saratoga.
They were there at Pimlico when In Lingerie won the Black-Eyed Susan the day before the Preakness, but Midkiff said they flew home two hours after the race.
“Holden had a soccer game the next morning,” he chuckled.
After the Breeders’ Cup races the trio again will be rushing home, but this time it’s Lee who has the pressing engagement.
In Lingerie has been catalogued in the high-profile Fasig-Tipton November Sales in Lexington. Whether Midkiff and the rest of the connections send her into the sales ring is still being decided. She has a lot of racing left and because she relishes synthetic tracks — depending on how she does at the Breeders’ Cup — she could possibly be pointed toward the Dubai World Cup in March where there’s “a ton of money” on the line, Midkiff said.
But Eclipse is also about getting its owners a return on their investment and the Fasig- Tipton sales can yield big money. Midkiff noted how Royal Delta, which won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last year and went to sale right after, was bought for $8.5 million.
While all that is heady stuff, Midkiff still stays grounded in the Springboro neighborhood.
As he sat on a couch in the front room of the Eclipse office, you couldn’t help but notice that half of the blanket of Black-eyed Susans that had been draped over In Lingerie in the Winner’s Circle had been freeze dried and framed and now hung on the wall above him.
On a nearby wall was the orange saddle towel that In Lingerie wore in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Near the front door, the Waterford Crystal trophy In Lingerie won at the Black-Eyed Susan was displayed in a special case.
And there was the 50-inch flat screen TV upon which Midkiff watches races from across the globe.
“With the kids in school, we can’t be going to every race our horses run,” he said. “So sometimes we’ll come over here and watch. And if we win, we have a little celebration.
“We walk down the street (to K & W) and have some ice cream or maybe a hot dog.”
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