The gaming world knows Jim McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, more for his sports bets. But that’s not Mack’s only tie to the industry.
Houston businessman Jim McIngvale, aka “Mattress Mack,” speaks to reporters at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2022, regarding the wager he would make for that day’s Kentucky Derby. McIngvale has been a horseman for years and said recently he considered placing a bid for Ellis Park in Kentucky, but Churchill Downs Incorporated beat him to it. (Image: Casino.org)
He’s also invested in horse racing, best known for owning champion sprinter Runhappy, and his interest in racing almost led to him buying a track.
McIngvale told Casino.org that he was considering a bid for Ellis Park, a racetrack in Henderson, Ky., that Churchill Downs Incorporated purchased last month from Laguna Development Corp. (LDC) for $79 million. McIngvale has been a sponsor of races at the track, which runs the summer meet in Kentucky.
By the time I found that the track was for sale, I think the deal with Churchill was pretty well done,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “I definitely had an interest but Churchill was way ahead of me.”
Churchill Downs closed on the purchase on Sept. 26, 11 days after the deal was first announced and less than a week after the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved the deal.
That amount, by the way, is almost how much McIngvale stands to gain should the Houston Astros win the World Series. McIngvale owns the Gallery Furniture chain in Houston. He makes wagers like those he made on the Astros earlier this year to hedge free furniture promotions the store runs in connection with sporting events.
‘You Got to Have Some Imagination’
McIngvale’s interest in a racetrack didn’t end when Churchill Downs closed the deal on Ellis. He said he would like to run a track in a fashion similar to how they run in England and at Kentucky Downs, which runs a turf-only boutique meet in September.
“My idea is to get a track that is available, land-wise, where you can have a really wide grass course and fix it up and run 30 horses at a time for big purses a couple times a year,” he said.
Fields that big are unheard of in US racing. Most tracks will cap fields at 14 horses, with the Kentucky Derby being the exception. It allows 20 horses.
Larger fields also typically attract greater betting interest in pari-mutuel pools. That means betting favorites and other horses will be more likely to have more attractive odds.
I know a little bit about gambling,” McIngvale said. “Nothing wrong with the current tracks we have, they all do a great job. You got to have some imagination, and it’s got to be a fan experience. You got to give people a chance to gamble and win some money.”
Ideally, the track would run in the spring and fall, similar to Keeneland’s annual schedule. With more people wagering and watching racing online, he said the ideal grandstand wouldn’t necessarily be a large one. A more compact facility would make it seem more crowded and generate more energy in the stands.
Mattress Mack as a Horseman
According to the Equibase database, McIngvale’s horses have run 1,325 times. Those horses have finished in the money 554 times. His horses have won 195 races, including nine graded stakes, and produced earnings of $9.3 million.
His horses have raced 41 times this year. Next Tuesday, Runup, a 3-year-old filly sired by Runhappy, is scheduled to race at Horseshoe Indianapolis.
There’s also increased interest in horse racing from the sportsbook side as well. Last month, FanDuel inked a deal with Churchill Downs to offer pari-mutuel horse racing from its tracks on its sports betting app. Two weeks ago, PointsBet and The Stronach Group’s 1/ST Technology signed a similar deal.
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