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Ruidoso was Hubbard's first venture into track ownership. In 1988 the track had become so rundown that it was in danger of closing. But Hubbard and Allred, who had made a fortune running family-planning centers in California, took over the track and turned it around. Today, after $2.6 million in improvements, Ruidoso once again is what Allred calls "the Saratoga of our sport," and he gives Hubbard most of the credit. "Nobody but Dee could have put the deal together that saved Ruidoso," he says.
Yet there's really no magic to Hubbard's success. As a former salesman, he knows the best way to close a deal is to cater to the customer. That's how he did it in the glass business, and that's how he's trying to do it in the racetrack business. "At AFG," says Hubbard, "we outworked our competition. I personally called on the major glass companies and customers. And now I'm personally involved in racetracks. I'm not afraid to make changes, and that's important."
A little imagination helps, too. Take the Hubbards' art collection. Once the property of Edward L. Doheny, who made his fortune in petroleum and who was a major figure in the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s, it includes two enormous murals by Charles Russell depicting selected events in the history of the West. Other pieces are by such well-known Western artists as Frederic S. Remington and William R. Leigh. Hubbard bought the collection in 1988 as an investment, but by displaying it at Ruidoso, he has also made it a means of attracting wealthy patrons to the track.
Even after the Doheny collection was moved into the house that had been designed around it, Hubbard still kept a museum on the second floor of the Ruidoso track, to display the work of contemporary artists. Each year the artist judged to have the best work in a competition sponsored by Hubbard receives the $250,000 Hubbard Art Award for Excellence, one of the largest such grants in the nation. As usual, Hubbard has something in the back of his mind. "Anybody who can afford to buy the art [the works on display in the competition] can afford a lot of other things," he says. Such as racehorses. And gambling.
Last futurity day, however, the only art that interested Hubbard was a winner's-circle photo. Just before the big race, he and Joan Dale led friends from their private rooftop box down to the paddock so they could wish Cowboys Rodeo good luck and watch him being saddled. Then it was back up to watch the race that Hubbard said he wanted to win as badly as he did the Kentucky Derby. "We've been chasing this silly race for years," Joan Dale said.
When the 10-horse field sprang from the gate, Cowboys Rodeo got the good start that Hubbard had wanted. However, in the final yards he got pinched by the horses on either side of him and appeared to be intimidated. Cowboys Rodeo finished fifth in a race won by Royal Quick Dash, another long shot.
Watching the cast-of-thousands celebration down in the winner's circle, Joan Dale smiled and said, "Well, that's what makes racing great, isn't it?" Her husband wasn't so philosophical. Watching a replay of the race, he became irritated when he saw the part where his horse got pinched. "I can't believe the stewards let that go," he said. Whatever else he is, R.D. Hubbard is not a good loser.
When Hubbard's bid in 1990 to take over Hollywood Park became known, the leaders in the thoroughbred industry were skeptical, to say the least. Here was a guy with a quarter-horse background; a guy who allowed dog racing to exist side by side with thoroughbred racing at his Kansas City plant. Could he be trusted? What if he tried to bring dog racing into California, where it's currently not legal? Just what was he up to?
"Hubbard was somewhat of a mystery man," says David Vance, who oversees the operation of three tracks for Ohio developer Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. "He's probably smarter than the rest of us. He picks his spots and seems to have some vision. He kind of changed direction when he took over Hollywood Park. Until then he seemed mostly interested in areas where he could be the only game in town."
Vance has a point. Even Hubbard concedes that "until I got involved with Hollywood Park, I wasn't very well known in thoroughbred racing." So why did he do it? Power? Prestige? Social acceptance? Ego? Hubbard was perhaps tired of being recognized as "that quarter-horse guy with all the money."