Although he is chairman of the board of Hollywood Park, which began its autumn meeting on Nov. 13, just about the last place you would expect to find R.D. Hubbard—call him Dee, all his friends do—is in the posh Turf Club, where the movie stars and high rollers hang out. Sure, he's one of the wealthier men in America, with a personal fortune estimated at more than $100 million, but Hubbard is just folks at heart. That's why he likes to get on his pony, Mr. Paint, and ride around the Hollywood barn area in the mornings, and why he's apt to spend the afternoons prowling the grandstand area, talking to the $2 bettors and getting their views on how the track can be improved.
The thoroughbred racing establishment isn't quite sure what to make of this bearded, 56-year-old maverick who made his fortune in the glass-manufacturing business, but almost everybody is happy that Hubbard is investing a whole lot of his money, time and energy in the sport. It doesn't even matter that he also likes quarter horses, for heaven's sake, or that he tolerates dog racing. The sport needs movers like Hubbard, rough edges and all, and it doesn't mind that he's much more at home in jeans and boots than in suits and ties. When a guy is buying into racetracks as if he's playing some kind of equine Monopoly, he can swill champagne from a mason jar, if he wants, and who's going to say a word about it?
Besides being the majority shareholder of Hollywood Park, Hubbard is the principal owner of Ruidoso Downs, a quarter horse-thoroughbred track in the mountains of eastern New Mexico; the Woodlands, a thoroughbred, quarter-horse and greyhound facility outside Kansas City, Kans.; and the Multnomah Kennel Club, in Portland, Ore. And he's toying with the idea of building a thoroughbred track in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"What's my game plan?" asks Hubbard. "Well, I'm looking for opportunities in horse racing, and there are some out there. I don't have a lot of hobbies, let's put it that way. I sort of got into buying racetracks by accident. But now that I've gotten into it, I'm going to see if we can have an effect and do something. I think racing is the best game in town, because it's exciting and you can bet on it. If it's marketed right, it ought to have some advantages over the competition."
On Labor Day, Sept. 2, Hubbard was at Ruidoso for that afternoon's $2 million All American Futurity, the most prestigious event in quarter-horse racing. He had a horse, Cowboys Rodeo, in the race. In four previous tries, Hubbard had failed to win the futurity, proving once again that money can't buy everything. Cowboys Rodeo was a long shot, but Hubbard felt that the horse had a chance, provided he got off to a good start.
Hubbard arrived at the track late, having spent the morning playing golf with Edward Allred, his partner in the track and in the ownership of several horses, and Jim Colbert, a former member of the PGA Tour (he's now one of the leading money winners on the Senior tour) and his partner in a golf-course design-and-construction business.
"I love it here," said Hubbard, leaning back in his office chair and gazing over at the nearby Silverado Mountains. "The weather is never bad. You just can't beat it. You can play golf the year round here." Although Hubbard comes across as low-key and affable, nobody reaches his level of success without having a gambler's heart and a relentless drive to succeed. Here's the capsule version of Hubbard's American Dream story: He hails from Smith Center, Kans. (pop. 2,000). The youngest of eight children, he began working for his father, Miner, who ran the town's ice house, at the age of 11. He worked his way through Butler County Community College, in El Dorado, Kans., where he played basketball, and then went to work in 1957 at Towanda (Kans.) Junior High School as a $3,200-a-year teacher and basketball coach. Next came a job at a Wichita firm that manufactured automobile windshields, and it took him only nine years to move from $90-a-week salesman to company president. In 1978 he and a group of investors merged two failing glass companies into AFG Industries. In 1988, when he took the company private in a $1.1 billion leveraged buyout, AFG was the nation's second-largest glass manufacturer.
Today he and his wife, Joan Dale, a former Wichita schoolteacher, have a lifestyle befitting their fortune. They own houses in Fort Worth, the home of AFG Industries; in Palm Springs, Calif., where they live a nine-iron from the fourth tee at the elegant La Quinta Country Club; and in Ruidoso, where they built a house in which to display their $15 million collection of Western art.
They feel most at home at Ruidoso, a tiny resort village about 120 miles northwest of El Paso. Bound by a mutual love of quarter horses, Dee and Joan Dale began going to Ruidoso in 1969, just after they were married. They began the Hubbard equine empire by buying a few quarter horses. Today the Hubbards have some 100 horses in training—35 or so quarter horses and 60 to 70 thoroughbreds. Dee and another partner, the late Edward Sczesny, established the 235-acre Crystal Springs Farm in Paris, Ky., and Hubbard has campaigned such outstanding thoroughbreds as Corwyn Bay, winner of the 1988 Cartier Million held in Ireland; Fire The Groom, winner of the 1991 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington; and Invited Guest, a major graded stakes winner. Yet Dee and Joan Dale love their quarter horses, so Ruidoso remains their special place.
"This is where we started," said Joan Dale, while waiting for the start of the All American Futurity. "All our friends are here. No question, this is more of a personal thing with us."