Bourbon Lane Stable & Lake Star Stable - Bourbon War

Winning Owners - sponsored by

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Both Mike McMahon and Jamie Hill, long-time friends and partners of Bourbon Lane Stable, co-owner of Kentucky Derby contender Bourbon War with Lake Star Stable, were born into racing. But each had to create his own path into the Thoroughbred industry.

McMahon’s parents, Joe and Anne McMahon, operate highly-successful McMahon at Saratoga Thoroughbreds farm just outside Saratoga Springs. Mike attended Cornell University, starting in pre-vet but ultimately majoring in business management. About to graduate, he interviewed for a job with a high-profile commodity broker, but the interviewer asked him what he would purchase after he established himself. Mike said, “I’ll probably buy some mares.” The response? “What’s a mare?” Mike didn’t get the job. “I blew the interview,” he said.

Just a week later, Mike accompanied his father on a trip to the November Keeneland Sale in Lexington. “Dad bought a horse, and he got a call from the credit office right afterwards,” Mike said. “A guy from Hong Kong was in the office, and he said he had come all the way to buy this horse. Would my dad take a profit and sell the horse to him? They worked out a deal. That was an epiphany for me. I realized there was a lot more to the business than I’ve been exposed to before in Saratoga. I knew I could differentiate my business from my dad’s, not to be under his shadow.”

After graduating from Cornell in 1993, Mike went to Ireland and completed the Irish National Stud course. He worked for trainer Scotty Schulhofer for two summers in Saratoga. Then he moved to Kentucky and put in 4 ½ years with EQUIX Biomechanics before starting his own company, McMahon Bloodstock, in 2001.

McMahon, 48, has emerged as an industry leader in taking care of Thoroughbreds after their racing careers conclude. He is the president of Thoroughbred Charities of America, and Bourbon Lane Stables has set up Bourbon Lane Stable Paddock at Mike Blowen’s Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky, where any Bourbon Lane equine can retire.

Hill’s father, long-time New York Racing Association veterinarian Jim Hill, was co-owner of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, one of the greatest horses of all time. “He was an incredibly tough horse,” Hill said. “He was picky allowing humans to be with him. He let me in. I would sleep in his stall with him. If somebody came in, he’d chase them away.”

Hill, 46, dropped out of Auburn University after poor grades ended his father’s financial support. He ran off to Mexico, studied film, and then, after six months, returned to Auburn paying his own way. “After college, for about six months, I thought I was going to work in the film industry,” he said. “Not good people. I started pin-hooking. Mike and I were friends in Saratoga. We both moved here (Kentucky) almost the same time.”

In 2011, McMahon welcomed in a partner when Hill purchased a 50 percent interest in McMahon Bloodstock, which became McMahon & Hill Bloodstock LLC. They also operate Spruce Lane Pinhook.

“We started with no markup,” McMahon said. “We think we have partners, not clients. We thought the industry needed that. It was an opportunity for Jamie and I.”

They created Bourbon Lane Stable Lane Stable LLC in 2010, and its interests include horses in England, South Africa and New Zealand. “We tried to tie ourselves to a quintessential Kentucky product,” McMahon said. “Bourbon is huge here.” It’s huge enough that McMahon and Hill created Pinhook Straight Bourbon Whiskey. All successful Bourbon Lane horses get a batch produced in their honor. The bourbon is now selling in 22 states.

Bourbon Lane Stable offers two partnerships, one with a yearling and one with a two-year-old, every year. Each partnership buys at least three horses to spread risk. “We believe we can grow our business and our industry by offering entry-level players a fair deal,” McMahon said.

He is pleased with the stable’s progress. “We’ve grown the numbers every year,” he said. “We hope there’s the same progression. We want to have the best partnerships available, just growing the whole pie. We handle bloodstock. We have Pinhook Partnership with a leading presence of purchasing weanlings. We want to keep growing that, too.”

“It’s been a long quest to have a horse at this level,” McMahon said. “We haven’t gotten to that level yet. Jamie and I have both had a lot of good horses, but here we are. It makes it a little more personal.”

Having Greg Burns and Mike Winter’s Lake Stable as a partner is even better. “Greg lives in Saratoga and has been a friend of mine and a partner in race horses for a long time,” McMahon said. “Our first horse together was Executive Search. We bought him from my father’s consignment in 2004 in Saratoga.”

When asked how much fun he’s having with Bourbon War, McMahon said, “Too much, probably.” Then he laughed, adding “We’ve seen the highs and lows.”

If they hit that ultimate high in one of the Triple Crown races, they won’t celebrate with champagne. They’ll be drowning themselves in bourbon.