West Point Thoroughbreds has an eclectic co-owner in Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks contender Dabo, including Jeff Ruby himself, along with several on-air personalities for NBC Sports and Jay Gruden, the current head coach of the Washington Redskins.
The $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks will be contested on Saturday at Turfway Park, with the winner to receive 20 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby.
West Point acquired Dabo privately on the advice of trainer Dale Romans last summer after he won his debut with a dazzling last-to-first rally going 6 furlongs on the Polytrack at Arlington Park. Soon thereafter, former NBC racing analyst Mike Battaglia reached out to West Point CEO Terry Finley and struck a deal for Peacock Stable to buy half of Dabo.
Battaglia and Tom Hammond, the long-time host of NBC horse racing coverage, put together groups to race under the Peacock Stable banner, so named for their ties to NBC along with those of Cris Collinsworth, the long-time NFL star and NBC Sunday Night Football analyst. Michelle Tafoya, sideline reporter for Sunday Night Football, also is part of Peacock’s half interest in Dabo.
“Tom started the stable and then he, Cris and I have been involved in all the Peacock horses,” Battaglia said. “I keep everyone up to date, talk to Dale when I need to, and we just have a good time with it.”
Ruby, head of the Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse brand in Cincinnati and four other cities, is involved in a Peacock horse for the first time with Dabo but said he first got involved as a Thoroughbred owner in the late 1970s at River Downs. He, Battaglia and Collinsworth won the Cincinnati Trophy Stakes at Turfway in 1984 with a filly named Controversial, also aptly named considering Battaglia called the race.
Ruby and Collinsworth were both part of the cheering contingent on hand representing Peacock and West Point Thoroughbreds when Dabo finished a late-running third in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, the prep race named for Mike Battaglia’s late father.
“I have loved horse racing for years and decided to get in on this horse, Dabo, after watching his maiden win,” Ruby said. “When I watched the video, I thought I saw him on the screen in last place on the backstretch but it turned out that it was the wrong horse—Dabo was actually even farther behind, off the screen, and I’m not sure I had ever seen anything like that before.”
Ruby said he showed the replay to Dabo Sweeney, head coach of the Clemson Tigers, the recently crowned NCAA champion football team.
“I sent him the video and said, ‘Is this horse named after you?,” Ruby recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t know, but he is a winner just like me,’ or something like that.
“Dabo told me later that he showed the race to his whole team as an example of coming from behind and not giving up.”
Ruby has known Battaglia for many years and is close friends and business partners with Collinsworth. For most of the last decade, Ruby has had endorsement deals displaying the Jeff Ruby Steaks logo on the jockey pants of Mike Smith, Joe Talamo and a few other riders. Last year, his brand became the title sponsor for Turfway Park’s signature race, which was previously known as the Spiral Stakes, among various other sponsorship monikers.
For the first time, the post-position draw for the Jeff Ruby Steaks will be held (where else?) but at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in Cincinnati.
“I think we’ve got the bases covered,” Ruby said with a laugh.
One of the West Point partners in Dabo is James Perry, who knows the long game with a late-running three-year-old after owning a piece of Commanding Curve, who rolled home from far back to finish second in the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
“When I saw [Dabo] come from the clouds in his race at Arlington, I immediately knew I wanted to own him,” Perry said. “He reminded me of my first horse, Commanding Curve, who needed more distance to thrive. He has improved every race under Dale’s care and has figured it out. I am very confident that the Jeff Ruby Steaks sets up very well for him. I can’t wait for Saturday.”
West Point also has Graded stakes winner Gunmetal Gray set for action on the Road to the Kentucky Derby on Saturday in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, along with five other stakes runners on the schedule that day, with stakes winner Galilean to follow a week later in the $1-million, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.