NFL coaches and players with horse racing connections

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August 28th, 2020

You’ve just won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do next?

For many football players and coaches, the answer is horse racing.

In the past decade, the sport of kings has become increasingly popular with gridiron athletes. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is a regular Kentucky Derby (G1) attendee, while many of his former Patriots teammates own racehorses.

With the 146th running of the Derby right around the corner, let’s look at some of the NFL coaches and players with horse racing connections.

Wes Welker

Brady’s longtime teammate and the current 49ers wide receivers coach, Wes Welker got his start in horse racing ownership around 2010 with trainer Wesley Ward and bloodstock agent Gatewood Bell.

Welker's most successful horse, Undrafted, won the 2015 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot and finished third in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1).

Undrafted was initially purchased for $50,000 at Keeneland in 2011 by Bell’s Hat Creek Racing. Former NFL tight end Jacob Tamme is also a partner in Hat Creek.

Vince Wilfork

Another retired Patriots player, nose tackle Vince Wilfork decided to try his hand at ownership after he watched Big Brown chase after the Triple Crown in 2008.

Wilfork's Great Minds won the Texas Mile (G3) at Lone Star Park in 2016. He also sat alongside the Zayat family during the 2015 Derby, when American Pharoah won the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Rob Gronkowski

Yet another Brady teammate, Gronkowski purchased a minority stake in a racehorse in 2018, once he learned the Thoroughbred shared his surname. Gronkowski, a dark bay colt, went on to finish second at the Belmont Stakes (G1) and was the runner-up in the 2019 Dubai World Cup (G1).

Bill Belichick

Just like Gronk, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a horse named after him.

Eight Rings, whose moniker is inspired by Belichick’s eight Super Bowl titles (he earned two as Giants defensive coordinator) won the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita in 2019 and came in sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) later that year.

While Belichick doesn't have an ownership stake in the Bob Baffert-trained runner, he is an avid fan.

The coach also used horse racing as a motivator during the Patriots’ 2001 Super Bowl-winning campaign. Early in the season, he showed a tape of Tiznow's edge-of-your seat victory in that year's Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) as a lesson in perseverance.

Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and Gayle Benson

The Patriots aren’t the only NFL team with horse racing connections. GMB Racing, the stable of New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson and her late husband Tom, ran both Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Their bay colt Lone Sailor, trained by Tom Amoss, finished eighth in the 2018 Run for the Roses.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton also helped form Last Mango Racing Stable. Other partners include Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, and Jimmy Buffett.

Bill Parcells

Since he retired from football, racing has become the primary focus of former NFL head coach Bill Parcells.

The two-time Super Bowl winner races under the name August Dawn Farm and has named many of his horses after former players, including Tuggle (after running back John Tuggle), Bavaro (after tight end Mark Bavaro), and Carthon (after fullback Maurice Carthon).  

His best win came in the 2013 Empire Classic Handicap, with the Gary Sciacca-trained Saratoga Snacks. Many of Parcells' current racehorses, including Three Technique (once a 2020 Derby hopeful), are with trainer Jeremiah Englehart.

Parcells' box at Saratoga is situated next to Giants executive Chris Mara, who owned a minority stake in Justify, the last Triple Crown winner.

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