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Complex Tale Behind Sire Of Kentucky Derby Winner

Marc Haisfield was at a friend’s house in Florida watching the Kentucky Derby when he saw Animal Kingdom emerge at the quarter pole.

“There’s no question he’s winning this thing,” his friend said to him. Seconds later, the horse was the winner of the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Jockey John Valazquez, riding Animal Kingdom #16, celebrates winning the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Al Bello | Getty Images
Jockey John Valazquez, riding Animal Kingdom #16, celebrates winning the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Haisfield doesn’t own Animal Kingdom, but he does have a tremendous stake in the horse’s success. You see, an entity managed by Haisfield bought Animal Kingdom’s father, 2005 champion turf male Leroidesanimeaux, in a bankruptcy auction in November.

Haisfield’s group paid $715,000, according to Bloodhorse, a leading horse racing trade publication, but today the horse is worth many times that.

“A lot of people thought that Marc was crazy for buying this horse for that kind of money, that it was just sentimental,” said John Hamilton, the lawyer who represented the debtor. “Not now.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

The bankruptcy wasn’t just any old bankruptcy. It was the bankruptcy of a company that Haisfield’s own father and stepmother owned.

Richard and Audrey Haisfield got caught up in the economic downturn. When the value of horses plummeted, the banks stopped lending. Even selling their stake in Medaglia D’Oro to Shiekh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a sale which valued the horse at $40 million, couldn’t put them back in the black. Three banks sued the Haisfields for more than $38 million in defaulted loans and soon after, eight of the Haisfields’ entities filed for bankruptcy in Kentucky and Florida.

As part of a settlement with one of the banks, JP Morgan Chase, Leroidesanimeaux was sold.

While Marc Haisfield enjoys the run of Animal Kingdom and thinks about the possible returns he can make off his now shrewd investment, the fight over his parents’ money continues.

Two lawsuits with $31.6 million in judgments against the Haisfields are still being fought in the courts.

John Hamilton, who represented the entities owned by Haisfield’s parents in the bankruptcy that resulted in the sale of Leroidesanimeaux, told CNBC that neither creditor would have a claim to Animal Kingdom’s sire.

“Once it was approved by the court, it’s final and can’t be challenged,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton only realized that Animal Kingdom was the son of Leroidesanimeaux while reading the paper on Sunday morning.

“It would be an incredible riches to rags back to riches story for this family,” Hamilton said. “But that’s what the horse business is all about.”

“It’s amazing that anyone in the world could have made an offer to purchase Leroidesanimeaux and it was Marc who did it,” said Marc Haisfield’s lawyer, Paul Krasker, who reiterated that his client made an arm’s length transaction to buy the horse.

Marc Haisfield wouldn’t comment on any of the legal action, but said he was able to enjoy Animal Kingdom’s win on Saturday.

“I think this horse is going to win the Triple Crown,” he said.

Returns won’t be immediate. Michelle Hemingway, who runs bloodstock sales at Stonewall Farm in Ocala, Fla., where the horse stands, said his stud fee is still at $10,000.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com