By Julie Sarno
Excitement builds as the Kentucky Derby on May 4 approaches and Rancho Santa Fe couple Gary and Mary West have several reasons to be hopeful. They might have more than one runner competing in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 6.
The Wests have owned property in Rancho Santa Fe for years and in 2008 moved here permanently. Locally, the couple owns West Steak and Seafood, Bistro West, West Inn Hotel & Suites, and West Mart in Carlsbad.
Recently, the couple answered questions for the Rancho Santa Fe Review.
Currently you have four runners gearing up for the spring 3-year-old Classics — Flashback, Code West, Treasury Bill and Power Broker, who is nearing a return to racing. (Power Broker finished fifth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last November.) Although you have been in racing for 30 years, this is an enviable position for an owner to be in. Which runner do you place the greatest hopes on at this point?
This year we’re taking nothing for granted, given our past disappointment and run of bad luck with our horses in the Derby. In fact, we will be very pleased if we get one horse into the starting gate on May 4. We believe Flashback has the best chance, followed by Code West. Power Broker is a longshot possibility due to his lack of recent racing experience. At this time, we are not considering Treasury Bill a candidate for the Derby.
Tell us about earlier contenders you have had for the Kentucky Derby in your 30 years of racing Thoroughbreds.
In our first Derby in 1993, we raced Rockamundo. During that race, our rider saw blood on his silks and on the horse, so he pulled Rockamundo up, thinking the horse had been injured. It turned out that the blood was from another horse, Toss of the Coin, who had been cut badly during the race. In hindsight, Rockamundo could have finished the race since he wasn’t injured; however, after reviewing video footage of the race, we don’t believe he would have been able to hit the board regardless.
In 2001, Dollar Bill was our second horse to be a Derby contender. Unfortunately, he ran into traffic problems and it just wasn’t his day.
Buddha was scheduled to race in the Derby in 2002 and was the morning-line favorite. Unfortunately, he was scratched out of the Derby the day before the race after stepping on a small stone, which badly bruised his foot.
Our most recent horse to run in the Derby was High Limit in 2005. He was injured during the race when another horse stepped on him, and he had to have multiple stitches.
As our experience shows, there are a lot more things that can go wrong in the Derby than can go right. In fact, we have done so poorly in our previous races that a 15th place finish would be an improvement!
Was your victory with 108-1 Rockamundo among your most thrilling wins with a 3-year-old?
Yes, the Rockamundo win was our most exciting because it was very unexpected. It was our first Graded Stakes win, and it allowed us to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby, which is every horse owner’s dream. It’s probably the race that has kept us in this very difficult game through the years.
Gary and Mary, how did each of you become interested in horse racing?
Gary: I read about racing horses as a teenager and became a big fan of the sport when I was 19 after moving to Omaha where Ak-Sar-Ben — one of the nation’s leading racetracks — was thriving.
I owned a horse when I was in high school and have always loved horses and the sport of racing. When Gary and I first got married, we use to go to the Ak-Sar-Ben race track in Omaha and dreamed of someday owning a race horse.
In 1980, we bought our first race horse, Joe Blow. He won 23 races for us and we raced him until he was 9 years old. We retired him in Valley, Neb., when his career ended. He lived to be 31 years old.
Currently you have horses with well-known trainers on the Southern California circuit, Bob Baffert and Ron Ellis. Have you enjoyed much racing success at your home track, Del Mar, in the past?
We have raced very little at Del Mar in the past; however, last year, we brought out a horse named Casino Host who won the Del Mar Handicap (G2). Our racing stable will have a much larger presence at Del Mar this year. Personally, we aren’t fans of synthetic racing surfaces. If Del Mar had a dirt track we would have more horses here.
Right now, you rank among the top owners in thoroughbred racing for 2013, with over $700,000 in purses earned and more than 20 wins this season. How many runners are in your racing stable?
We have 10 horses in California and 24 horses in other parts of the country.
The Senior Center downtown on 4th Avenue is now named the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center. When was the center renamed as a result of your donation?
The official opening of the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center was April 21, 2010. While the Gary and Mary West Foundation is a lead sponsor, our impact is due to the partnerships we have with other nonprofit service providers who bring expertise in housing, social work, entitlement benefits, physical therapy and fitness to the Wellness Center. Together, we assist more than 1,000 seniors per day, at or below the poverty level, with a variety of services.
Tell us a little about your commitment to seniors, particularly those who might be less fortunate.
Part of our passion for improving senior wellness comes from Mary caring for her elderly mother. When we explored what we could do to help seniors, we found out that the country spends more per capita each year on saving the spotted owl (by the way, we have nothing against owls) than we do on our elderly population, who have helped make this country great. That led to the development of the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, which offers meals, social experiences and preventive health care for seniors. These are ordinary folks who haven’t caught many breaks in life and many are teetering on the edge of survival. Our philanthropic investment helps the Center provide programmatic outcomes that literally change and save lives. From our perspective, there is nothing better than that.
Tell us about the Gary and Mary West Foundation you formed in 2006? Are there other philanthropic causes locally or nationally which you are involved in?
When Mary and I sold West Corporation (an international conglomerate with more than 35,000 employees and clients in banking, retail and technology sold in 2006), we wanted to give back to the country and our community in an impactful and meaningful way. We established the Gary and Mary West Foundation, which has four areas of focus that are close to our hearts and experience: lowering the cost of health care; supporting senior wellness initiatives; supporting at risk youth employment training; and supporting training programs for service dogs that help seniors and veterans.
Our Foundation funds nonprofit organizations in San Diego and Omaha that are aligned with its mission and have a track record of achieving measurable and meaningful results. We view our grantees as our partners and we work collaboratively to ensure our efforts make a positive impact in the community.
Why did you create the West Health Institute? What is its mission?
West answer (from Gary):
Our passion for this cause began more than 30 years ago when I was an assistant hospital administrator. Back then, the rate for a hospital room was less than $100 per day. After founding and building West Corporation, with more than 35,000 employees, Mary and I both became acutely aware of the pressing need to do something about the rising and unsustainable cost of health care in the United States so that everyone has the opportunity for prosperity and success.
This experience led to our founding the West Health Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit applied medical research organization aimed at developing new technologies to lower the cost of health care. Established in 2009 and originally called the West Wireless Health Institute, the Institute is part of West Health, the name of an umbrella initiative that also includes the nonprofit West Health Policy Center, and the for-profit West Health Investment Fund and West Health Incubator. These four mission-aligned entities are focused on lowering health care costs by creating innovative, patient-centered solutions that deliver the right care at the right place at the right time.
What does the West Health Investment Fund focus on? Is it a mutual fund or a venture capital endeavor?
A couple of years after founding the West Health Institute, it became apparent that an applied medical research organization alone couldn’t invent every technology that was going to help lower the cost of health care. In October 2011, we launched a venture capital fund with $100 million to provide risk capital for companies working on innovative solutions that could reduce the cost of health care. Our fund is unique in its philanthropic nature as it commits any returns made from investments to medical research and other charitable activities. We do not profit from any returns.
Your racing silks are pink with black diamonds. Is there any significance to the color choice and design configuration? (Or did you just want something that is easily visible during a race which is what most owners tell me?)
West answer (Mary):
Gary and I worked on racing silks together. We wanted a color that was easy to see at a distance, so we selected “hot pink,” and we both liked the black diamond design. At the time, very few people were using “hot pink” but that has changed over the years, and now it is one of the more popular racing silk colors.
The following is synopsis of the careers of Gary and Mary West:
Gary West began his career in hospital administration. Along with his wife Mary, the Wests have founded numerous companies over the last four decades, one of which was West Corporation. Founded in 1986, it is one of the largest customer relationship management companies in the world with a diversified portfolio of companies under its umbrella.
In addition, the Wests have a range of enterprises based in Southern California and the Midwest. These include West Development, a management company that supports the Wests’ business interests; West Partners, a private equity firm; and West Family Investments, which is a sizeable private hedge fund located in Chicago, Illinois.