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Sam Huff Now Making Impact in Horse Racing

September 27, 1987|POHLA SMITH | United Press International

West Virginia's horsemen and breeders were skeptical and perhaps "a little bit" resentful when Sam Huff unveiled his plans to give the Mountain State its own version of the Breeders' Cup and Maryland Million.

No disrespect intended, but what did this former West Virginia and NFL football star know about staging stakes races and raising purse money?

"They said, 'We don't have the horses; there isn't enough time,"' Huff recalls. "They were wrong."

The five races of the inaugural $200,000 West Virginia Breeders Classics were run with full fields amidst much celebration and fanfare at Charles Town Sept. 12 -- about eight months after Huff revealed his intentions.

Huff got his inspiration while attending the inaugural 1986 Maryland Million with its founder, Jim McKay.

"That was a great day for Maryland and racing," Huff says. "Great horses, great day, the Maryland colors were everywhere, the races were great. I thought to myself, 'If they can do it in Maryland, why can't I do it in West Virginia?"'

Up to that point, Huff was merely an avid racing fan, glad that his two favorite sports events never can occur on the same day because "I'd have a hard time determining whether to go to the Super Bowl or the Kentucky Derby."

It didn't take horsemanship to line up corporate sponsors for the races -- just a good knowledge of networking.

Louis Rich, a subsidiary of Oscar Meyer, came up with the $25,000 purse for the 7-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies, after Huff agreed to participate in one of its pet projects, an NFL Alumni golf tournament.

The handshake deal was consummated as Huff and an Oscar Meyer official, also a friend, traversed the golf course.

"It was a friendly tradeoff," Huff says, laughing.

Huff got similar agreements from Budweiser, a longtime racing sponsor; the West Virginia Lottery, the distillers of Jim Beam whiskey, another regular racing sponsor, and five banks located in Jefferson County, W.Va.

"Can you imagine that?" Huff says proudly. "We got five banks to cooperate!"

And the horsemen said it couldn't be done.

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