By: Ed Zieralski | Courtesy: The San Diego Union-Tribune
ARCADIA, CA — As an 8-year-old whose parents bred and raced thoroughbreds and owned a vacation place in Del Mar, Aron Wellman remembers wanting nothing more than to work on the backstretch at the seaside racetrack.
Thanks to his parents’ connections, he met future Hall of Fame jockeys Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Delahoussaye.
“‘Shoe’ was my idol, and I was really lucky because he would take me to the jockey’s room a few times a year,” Wellman said. “And Eddie has been my mentor from the time I was a really young kid and still is to this day. I was extremely fortunate to grow up around horse racing royalty and the right kind of horse racing royalty.”
Before long, Wellman talked his way into trainer Jude Feld’s barn at Del Mar, mucking stalls there and at other barns. Soon he was walking hots, grooming horses and learning something about the game every day. He grew solid roots for a career in horse racing, and today, he and his partners in Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners are knocking on the door of greatness here at the 29th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.
Just a year and a half removed from being Barry Irwin’s vice president at Team Valor International, Wellman is here this weekend representing his own team of horse owners, the Del Mar-based Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. It’s a group of well-heeled horse owners who trust him as president of the group and his partner, chairman Lee Midkiff of Ohio, to make key decisions on their investments in top-caliber racehorses. They’ve already won seven stakes races and have earned nearly $1.5 million in their first year as a partnership. They could really score this weekend with Tara From The Cape in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf Division and In Lingerie in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf Division. On Saturday they send Capo Bastone in the $2 million Juvenile Division on the second and final day of the Breeders’ Cup.
“It’s amazing how it all started, but from the time I was 8 years until the time I graduated law school (Southwestern University in Downtown Los Angeles), I worked the backside of the Del Mar racetrack,” said Wellman, 35, who today lives in Rancho Santa Fe with his wife, Talya, 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, and six-month-old son, Jack.
As much as his parents, Mike and Cory Wellman, tried to talk their son out of following them into the game, he couldn’t wait to get enough money from his law practice to leave the courtrooms and get back to horse racing.
He was still practicing as a litigator when he and some partners started with claimers, with their first being Rhetoric Express for $32,000. They lost him for a profit when he was claimed for $50,000.
“We won a couple of races with him, and everyone thought it was an easy game,” Wellman said.
He started his first partnership, Let’s Get Lucky Racing, in 2006 and began acquiring better horses under the watchful eyes of Patrick Gallagher, who Wellman said he learned “pure horsemanship.” Wellman bought Three Degrees and then Valbenny. That’s how he met Irwin and Team Valor International. Irwin inquired about buying Valpenny as a racing-broodmare.
He worked with Irwin for 4½ years and was part of one Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf win with Pluck and the Kentucky Derby win in 2010 with Animal Kingdom.
“We had a heckuva run, and it was a real experience with Barry, who is innovative and intelligent, a genius,” Wellman said. “But after the Kentucky Derby win it was time to move on. It was a dream job, the perfect opportunity for me to leave the law profession and take a huge leap of faith to enter the horse racing industry. I’m thankful for Barry for providing me with that platform.”
These days, Wellman is confident he will succeed in a game that can break the strongest of wills. His group has offices in Del Mar, Springboro, Ohio and Aiken, S.C., where he has joined with Dogwood Stable’s Cot Campbell, considered the pioneer of racing partnerships. Wellman has 90 active partners.
“It may come off the wrong way when I say this,” he said. “But I believe a lot of the success we’ve experienced is because I have always believed in being able to compete and succeed at the level we’re seeing our stable succeed at currently.
“I don’t like to dream big. I like to believe big. If you have faith in yourself and surround yourself with people that you trust, good things are going to happen. This is where we want to be. It’s not just for me. It’s for our partners. Without our partners support there is no Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. They’re the ones who put their faith in me and Lee. Our focus on the racetrack is to participate at the highest level that the game has to offer.”