By Julie Sarno
Looking back over more than 40 years in the Thoroughbred business, Rollin and Bonnie Baugh say their favorite part has been the many friends they have made. To the Rancho Santa Fe couple, thoroughbred racing is more than just a business, it has been a way of life.
“Our first race horse was Year of Beginning,” recalled Bonnie. “We bought her in 1968, the year we were married. She won her first race by eight lengths. The jockey was Danny Velasquez. We saw Danny (now a trainer) the other day at Del Mar. Danny said to us, ‘Do you remember Year of Beginning? Those were such good times.’”
Baugh remembers his first trip to Del Mar. He grew up in Pasadena, California. When he was 11 or 12, his father brought him to stay at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe:
“Each day we would get up and my brother, father and I played golf. Then we went back to The Inn, and ate club sandwiches by the pool before going to the races. That, in my view of life, is as good as it can be. The hook was completely set in me.”
The couple run Baugh International, a bloodstock agency that buys and sells horses. They compare a bloodstock agent to a stock broker or real estate agent. A stock broker facilitates the buying and selling of stocks. A bloodstock agent buys and sells Thoroughbreds, known in England as “horses of the blood.”
Through the years, Baugh has earned respect and recognition from his racing peers. Locally, he is a longtime member of the board of directors of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club — he was appointed 20 years ago. Nationally, he is a member of The Jockey Club. Also, he is a former trustee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association.
Rollin grew up a bicycle ride away from Santa Anita. His father took him there at age 12. Rollin was captivated and found a way to sneak in. Occasionally, his father went on Thursdays with friends. When Rollin encountered the group one afternoon and inquired as to which horse he should bet on, one of his father’s friends quipped, “Juvenile Delinquent.”
Shortly after Baugh graduated from college, his father passed away. The family business was sold and Baugh wanted to pursue his interest in racing. He went to Jim Stewart, who managed Hollywood Park, and asked how to land a job in the sport.
“At that time, there was no structured way to get in,” said Baugh, referring to the college majors currently offered, notably, the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona. “If you did not have family in the sport, or connections, it was very difficult.”
So Baugh went to work for Ampex in Redwood City, which produced tapes and video cassette recorders. After three and a half years, Baugh had worked his way up to International Advertising Manager, but he left the company to find a job in racing. He lived at JRK Ranch in San Luis Obispo, took courses at Cal Poly Pomona and attended horse sales. He saw an ad for a position in publishing and advertising with the Thoroughbred of California, now known as the California Thoroughbred, published by the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Baugh went for an interview and met Colonel Keester who was running the CTBA at the time, Cecilia DeMille Harper and Joe Harper, her son. The latter is now president and chief executive officer of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
Baugh had experience in advertising, but he wanted to learn more about production, advertising art and design. In 1964, he enrolled in a course at Pasadena City College. He made it a point to arrive early and take a seat next to the prettiest girl in the class. After three weeks, Baugh worked up the courage to ask her out. Her name was Bonnie and she also grew up in Pasadena. The couple began dating and, four years later, they were married. They have one daughter, Kristy, who lives in Sonoma and helps Baugh International with research.
In 1963, Baugh had met Jim Buell, an established California horseman and Thoroughbred breeder at the CTBA Fasig-Tipton auction at Pomona. Baugh had outbid Buell on a horse, a mare by champion Nashua. Buell also is a member of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s board of directors.
“I paid $1,600 for her, my hard-earned money which I had saved while working for Ampex,” recalled Baugh. “Jim came up to me after and said he was interested in the mare. The mare never got in foal. That was a great education. I learned the business is not easy and Jim introduced me to a whole bunch of people in Kentucky.”
After Baugh worked for the CTBA for three and a half years, Col. Keester decided to retire. Baugh was asked to head the organization. After some soul searching, Baugh turned down the offer and opened his bloodstock business in October of 1968, just before his marriage to Bonnie. The couple have worked together in the firm ever since.
Over the years, the emphasis of Baugh International has changed. In the beginning, the emphasis was more on research. Then they began to handle major dispersals selling horses for the Peco Ranch. In 1971, they handled the Fletcher Jones dispersal, which yielded a world record price for a mare in training at that time, $725,000 for Typecast, one of the great race mares of her day and a champion. (Jones was the founder of Computer Sciences in El Segundo, not the car dealer of the same name.)
In addition to sales management all over the world, Baugh International has helped individuals and groups buy racehorses. Baugh has syndicated a number of horses for stallion duty, doing a lot business particularly in Japan. Baugh International has sold several prominent racehorses for stallion duty in Japan, beginning with Forty Niner and including Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm (1997) and Charismatic (1999).
“One summer, we were invited to spend the summer in Deauville, France,” recalled Bonnie. Deauville is a track by the sea which also conducts a summer race meet. “Bill McDonald introduced us to a wealthy financier, Alan Clore. We handled his dispersal in 1982. We sold a yearling for him, named Rainbow Quest. He won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1985, a premier race in France.”
By embarking on a career in racing, the Baughs have enjoyed their own sort of “The Road Not Taken,” a poem by Robert Frost. The poem ends with the line, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”