The Los Angeles Times

November 25, 1999

Some Mula Gula Can’t Help but Change Owner’s Mind


By Bob Mieszerski, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1999


Although Steven Gula has been a racing fan for most of his life, he never had any desire to be a Thoroughbred owner.

Gula’s lack of interest wasn’t because he didn’t have the resources. For 25 years, he has owned Seagull USA, Inc., a Seattle-based supplier of aviation fuel to major airlines and several large corporations. At one time, Seagull was the largest independent distributor in the country.

What tempered any enthusiasm was remembering how things were when his father, Ben, owned horses.

“He had four horses in six years and he lost enough money in the business,” Gula said. “I had never seen anybody in racing make any money or show a profit.”

Since becoming an owner almost by accident, Gula has had a sizable return on his investment.

A $6,000 purchase by bloodstock agent Dana Halvorson for Gula at a sale three years ago turned out to be Mula Gula, the likely favorite for Sunday’s $500,000 Early Times Hollywood Derby. The Derby, which could have a full field of 14, is one of six races in Hollywood Park’s three-day, $2.15-million Turf Festival.

With a victory in last month’s $250,000 Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita, Mula Gula, a son of 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee, has won five of 13 and earned $400,230.

Already, Gula has turned down a sizable amount of moola–the first part of the colt’s name is a variation on that slang term for money–for his multiple-stakes winner. A California-based group, which Gula declined to name, offered $1.6 million for the 3-year-old, who with a win Sunday, would become the first Grade I winner for his sire.

Usually, people can only dream about having such success with the first horse they own. What makes it all the more remarkable is how Gula became involved.

“Halvorson is a friend of my dad’s and he called him in 1996 and asked if he would be interested in purchasing a horse [at the Fasig-Tipton sale],” Gula said.

“My dad said he didn’t want to be involved, so he suggested that Dana call me. He did and when I asked him about what kind of budget he would need, he said between $30,000 and $35,000.

“I didn’t really want to spend that much, so I gave him a budget of $15,000. I was trying to be courteous, but I didn’t really want to get into the business. I didn’t ever expect to hear from Dana again.”

Gula was shocked when Halvorson did call and informed him that he was now a horse owner. “My first response was, ‘OK, now what do I do?” remembered Gula.

After being broken at a farm in Washington state, Mula Gula was sent to trainer Steve Bullock. He began his racing career by finished third against maidens Aug. 8, 1998, at Emerald Downs.

Mula Gula won a $39,000 stakes in his next start as a 10-1 shot, then was a very troubled second in the $90,000 Gottstein Futurity, a race his owner says he should have won. Because there was no disqualification in the Futurity, Gula appealed to the Washington Racing Commission, but his appeal was denied.

After the Futurity, Jim Plemmons, who had bred Mula Gula, recommended Gula send the colt south to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the perennial leading trainer in Northern California.

In eight starts for Hollendorfer, Mula Gula has won for, and besides the Oak Tree Derby, his other grass wins include the Bay Meadows Breeders’ Cup Derby and a division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar. Wherever he has run, Gula has been there, along with his father and mother, Beatrice. The colt will have a large fan club Sunday, including Halvorson and Plemmons.

“I’m really enjoying this and so are my parents,” Gula said. “[Mula Gula] is the focal point of their lives right now. He is special to so many people. It’s remarkable to think about how far this horse has come.

“After he won the Oak Tree Derby, [jockey] Gary [Stevens] said he wouldn’t take anything less than $2.5 million for this horse. He said I’ll go anywhere to ride him and he’s a Breeders’ Cup horse. My heart was pounding 300 beats a minute.”

Stevens, who was aboard Mula Gula for the first time in the Oak Tree Derby, said the colt compares to another horse with whom he has had stakes success.

“He reminds me a lot of Ladies Din [the 1998 Oak Tree Derby winner] at this time last year,” Stevens said. “He’s got tons of ability and he’s a long-striding colt that’s going to mature with time. He really doesn’t know what he’s doing right now.”

Mula Gula is no longer Steven Gula’s only horse. A bit more than two months ago at Keeneland, the owner paid $30,000 for a yearling son of With Approval. “He’s gray, like his father, and he’s a beauty,” said Gula, adding the horse will go to Hollendorfer and make his debut sometime next year.