Mark Wiedmer: Baylor alum Dan Pride helps guide success of Belmont winner Essential Quality's stable

·5 min read

Jun. 8—It had been a pretty good day for Dan Pride and the Godolphin breeding operation he oversees in Lexington, Kentucky, long before Essential Quality broke from the No. 2 starting gate in the 153d running of the Belmont Stakes this past Saturday.

Pride — who graduated from Baylor School in 1987 and from the University of Georgia four years later with a degree in history — had already watched, via television, GoDolphin's United Kingdom-bred Adayar race to victory across the pond in the prestigious Epsom Derby.

A few hours afer that, two of the stable's most talented fillies — British-bred Althiqa and stablemate Summer Romance finished 1-2 in the $500,000 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont.

But while those may further elevate Godolphin's impressive reputation worldwide, Essential Quality's races are more personal for Pride, who grew up in Nashville before boarding at Baylor.

"He was born a half-mile from my house," Pride said on Monday of Godolphin's Jonabell Farm near the Lexington airport. "EQ's just always been a horse you'd notice. He's always stood out."

But come the first Saturday in May — a day that has come to stand out for all the wrong reasons after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance — pre-race Derby betting favorite Essential Quality was left on the outside looking in, mostly because he was forced to the outside early in a race in which saving as much ground as possible is essential.

"I've told people it was like running a 400-meter race without a staggered start," said Pride of EQ's mile-and-three-eighths Derby run, which left him fourth at the finish line. "He ran 68 feet farther than the winner and was only beaten by a length. He didn't run a bad race. He just had a tough start."

Of Medina Spirit's positive drug test and the lengthy suspensions for trainer Bob Baffert in both Kentucky and New York making it a tough start for racing in 2021, Pride said, "It's massively disappointing for the thoroughbred industry that we're going through this business. Thirty-eight states have racing and all 38 have their own rules. We desperately need a centralized governing body to oversee our sport."

Pride's start in the sport wasn't exactly an easy one. He and his wife Beth were both teachers. A lover of horses since he was given a pony at the age of 4, Dan one day ran across a boy at the Hammond School where he was teaching in Columbia, S.C., who was wearing a Hollywood Park Racetrack hat.

Turned out the boy's father, Kip Elser, ran Kirkwood Stables in nearby Camden, S.C. The two hit it off and Dan was soon mucking out stalls whenever possible and occasionally accompanying Elser to yearling sales throughout the country.

At about this same time, the upper school headmaster at Hammond, Scott Wilson, was about to leave for another gig, and Pride would be elevated from middle school headmaster to Wilson's post.

Trouble was, Wilson — who's just retired as Baylor's headmaster — informed Pride that if he really wanted to make education his career he probably needed a masters degree.

Instead, after five years at Hammond, he walked away in 1999 to chase his horse racing dreams.

"I probably had one foot on the side of brave and one foot on the side of stupid," said Pride on Monday. "But I got a job as a groom in Lexington."

Taylor Made Farm reached out to him. So did Ben and Elliott Walden, whose cousins, the Pettways, call Chattanooga home. He later worked for Fasig-Tipton, the internationally-known auction house for thoroughbreds. During all this, Wilson lost track of him and wondered if Pride's feet had ultimately landed on Brave or Stupid.

"Then my wife and I are watching the Derby the year that Smarty Jones won (2004) and there's Dan and Beth in the Churchill Downs winner's circle," recalled Wilson. "I decided he'd climbed the ladder about as fast as you can climb it."

And how. Pride, 53, is now the Chief Operating Officer for Godolphin's U.S. operations. He's recently served a six-year term on Baylor's board. On the home front, daughter Eliza graduated from Emory in 2020. Son Lew is a student at Georgia. Life is good.

Looking back, Pride says, "Baylor changed my life. The faculty. The friends that I made. Very special place."

But when your employer is Godolphin, which is owned by controversial Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, posting a win in the Belmont can be pretty special, too.

"For more than a year, (trainer) Brad Cox has said, 'That's my Belmont Stakes horse,'" said Pride. "We felt good (healthwise) coming out of the Derby. And then we won those earlier races on Saturday."

Anyone who watched the race knows it was anything but an easy win. Hot Rod Charlie shot out of the gate early, forcing Essential Quality to hang closer to the front than he might have liked in the mile-and-a-half race. But he roared to the finish, winning by more than a length to give Cox his first Triple Crown win and Godolphin its second Triple Crown triumph following Bernadini's 2006 victory in the Preakness.

Not long after the race, Pride texted pictures of himself and Beth at Essential Quality's Belmont Park stall to Wilson and others.

"It's definitely been a big deal here at Baylor," said Wilson. "So happy for him and Beth."

The race results official, Pride and the Godolphin team celebrated with champagne and a rich Italian dinner at the legendary Elmont, N.Y., eatery King Umberto.

"Hugely satisfying," Pride said of the win.

When Brave overpowers Stupid, it always is.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting