Runhappy: The All-Natural Racehorse

Updated: Apr 10, 2019


Photos of Runhappy provided by Gallery Racing.

Gallery Racing, owned by James McIngvale, has been a medication-free racing operation since they opened their doors in the fall of 2014. Thus far, the greatest horse to rise from McIngvale’s operation was a colt he purchased for $200,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.


The colt, later to be named Runhappy, was bred by Wayne, Gary, and Bryan Lyster. They had paired their stakes winning mare Bella Jolie with Super Saver, the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner who had not yet had his first crop of foals. The mating was successful and the colt was born on March 4th, 2012.

Runhappy as a foal. Photo provided by Gallery Racing.

Two years later, Runhappy was in training with Laura Wohlers. Under her care, Runhappy began to blossom. The colt followed McIngvale’s policy of no lasix or anti-inflammatory drugs, as McIngvale believed that these drugs were “bad for racing”.


In December of 2014, Runhappy made his debut at Turfway Park. With Adrian Garcia in the irons, Runhappy broke awkwardly from post four. He quickly moved up the pack on the rail and opened up a huge lead over his opponents. Despite veering around the far turn and in the stretch, Runhappy crossed the wire 8 ¼ lengths ahead of the rest of the field.


After breaking his maiden in incredible fashion, the racing world began to pay attention to Runhappy. He returned to the racetrack on January 17th, 2015, in the Gr.3 LeComte Stakes. Again, he broke slowly and was bumped twice during the race. Unable to recover, he finished ninth.


In the aftermath of the Gr.3 LeComte Stakes, Maria Borrell took over the training of Runhappy. He made his first two starts for Borrell in allowance races, winning both with Erin Walker in the irons.

Runhappy getting massaged. Photo provided by Gallery Racing.

Because of his successes in the allowance races, Runhappy made a huge jump in class for the seven furlong Gr.1 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga. In stunning fashion, Runhappy took over the lead after the first quarter mile and never gave it up. He won by four lengths, setting the race record at 1:20.54.


Runhappy quickly became a social media sensation. Videos displaying the horse’s quirks spread like wildfire, as did images of Runhappy and his groom Cordell Anderson. Everyone loved to see videos and pictures of Runhappy’s (affectionately called “Hap”) daily life. Gallery Racing was very open about how the horse was cared for and what his daily routine was like. “Runhappy’s daily routine was waking up (always a process), morning training, long walks in the early afternoon, swimming three times a week, and as long as the weather was nice, he was turned out to our paddocks daily,” explained Gallery Racing. “We use a lot of holistic therapy, cold water spa treatments, and massage and chiropractic work with Runhappy,” Gallery Racing described. “We always felt that the best therapy was turn out in his paddock which allowed him fresh air, sunshine, and fresh, natural grazing. On the days that the weather wasn’t up to par for turnout, Cordell would take him on hours long walks to stretch his legs in the afternoon and to bond”.


In his next start, Runhappy was the 7/5 favorite in the Gr.3 Phoenix Stakes. In what would be his final preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Runhappy won by 1 ¾ lengths.

Runhappy in his paddock. Photo provided by Gallery Racing.

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint hosted the best sprinting horses from around the world, including the favored Private Zone. The race began well for Runhappy who broke from post five. He quickly made his way towards the front of the field, sitting just behind Private Zone in third. As the horses neared the far turn, Runhappy moved to the outside of Private Zone and Holy Boss. In track record setting style, Runhappy ran down Private Zone to win by one length.


The win brought tears of joy for Runhappy’s connections. However, controversy surrounded the team after trainer Maria Borell was fired as Runhappy’s trainer the following morning. Laura Wohlers would become the horse’s trainer once more.


To end his three-year old season, Runhappy was entered into the Gr.1 Malibu Stakes. Proving that his win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was not a simple strike of luck, Runhappy easily drew clear of the field to win.


Runhappy won the 2015 Eclipse Award for American Champion Sprint Horse for his incredibly successful campaign.


After taking a two-month break from racing at a farm in Texas, Runhappy returned to training. He was targeted to run in the Gr.2 Churchill Downs Stakes, but slightly bruised his right hind heel. Although he was kept in light training, the bruise prevented Runhappy from racing for many months. In June, he was found to have a bruise on his right front cannon bone which sidelined him for sixty additional days.


Runhappy finally returned to the races on October 1st, 2016 in the Gr.3 Ack Ack Stakes. In that race, he sat to the outside of Mr.Z as the two went head to head down the backstretch. Around the far turn, Runhappy took command of the race but failed to hold on. He ultimately finished fourth in a field of six.

Runhappy and his groom Cordell Anderson going on a walk. Photo provided by Gallery Racing.

The next month, Runhappy made a return to the Breeders’ Cup with a start in the Dirt Mile. Although he led the race from the gate, he turned up empty in the stretch to finish eighth in a field of nine.


Gallery Racing owner James McIngvale had spent $1 million to grant Runhappy a spot in the Pegasus World Cup, but decided to listen to what he knew his horse was telling him - Runhappy was retired to Claiborne Farm. Although Runhappy is retired, he is far from away from the public view. At Claiborne Farm he occupies the same stall Secretariat once did. And, his 2018 weanlings and 2019 yearlings have been gaining a lot of attention at the sales.


Runhappy stands as an example of what can be achieved with a drug-free racehorse and Gallery Racing hopes that the rest of the industry will soon be able to follow in their footsteps.


When asked how Gallery Racing felt about the recent decisions made by the Stronach Group to phase out race day medication in California they replied, “We are obviously for it. We understand this won’t be an overnight decision or solution and we are okay with that. We commend the Stronach Group for really trying to change the game and be innovative”. “We are excited for a more transparent racing experience in the United States. It will benefit us all, from the horses to the fans and the players. Everyone will gain something positive from this. Change is tough and hard, but our sport deserves it”.


All quotes in this article were sent to Champions of the Track by Gallery Racing.


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