Better Than an Airplane or Yacht
There were two crucial moments in Gary Hartunian’s brief, yet incredibly successful, tenure as a Thoroughbred owner after building a strong career in Los Angeles commercial real estate. The first—the decision to buy a Thoroughbred—came in 2012 when he took advantage of the first Barretts Paddock Sale at Del Mar and purchased a ready-to-race Fast N Furius Cat after conferring with trainer Peter Miller. Hartunian explained his rationale for becoming an owner in a July 15, 2013, story by Ed Zieralski in the San Diego Tribune: “I was having such a great time at Del Mar every year, I thought, why not? I might as well buy a horse. I figured it was better than owning an airplane or yacht—probably cheaper and a lot more fun because I really like horses. They’re such beautiful animals and do so much amazing things.”
His second seminal decision to stay in the business also came in 2012, when, after Fast N Furius Cat finished third and eighth, he was claimed for $32,000. Instead of walking away, Hartunian plunged head first into racing, not a bad decision as his Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen’s two sprinters, Roy H, who is named for Hartunian’s grandfather, and Stormy Liberal, captured their second consecutive Breeders’ Cup stakes in 2018, winning the Sprint and the Turf Sprint. That’s four Breeders’ Cup victories in a little more than one year.
Roy H began his career on turf, making nine of his first 12 starts on grass. He was zero-for-three on dirt at that point, when Miller returned him to dirt out of desperation and watched him blossom into a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner.
Even more remarkable is that they purchased Stormy Liberal in a $40,000 claim, and that he won his four last starts of 2018 by a nose, a nose, a head and his second straight Breeders’ Cup by a neck, a year after he won his Breeders’ Cup race at Del Mar. “It’s pretty amazing to have won at Del Mar, which is sort of my home track, and then to come out to Churchill Downs and pull the same thing off,” Bernsen said. “It sort of capped off a very tumultuous year for Peter especially, dealing with the barns that were burning down (at the San Luis Rey Training Center); and a month later we’re getting an Eclipse Award. Then a couple of months after that, we’re in Dubai, and both horses ran well.”
Two months after winning his second consecutive Breeders’ Cup race, Stormy Liberal proved that he’s mortal, finishing second to Caribou Club in the Gr3 Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita on 2019 New Year’s Day.
A year ago, after Stormy Liberal won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar, he finished 11th in the Gp1 Hong Kong Sprint. Then, after finishing second in the Gr3 Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita, he was second by a half-length in the Gp1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai.
He’d literally taken his connections all over the globe. They could have gotten to those exotic destinations in an airplane or on a yacht, but what fun would that have been?