Racing History: D. J. Trump and a Date with Marla

by | May 8, 2019 | Breaking, Features, Regionwide

Today in Racing History is an occasional feature focusing on some of racing history’s interesting, important, or unusual events. 

President Donald Trump has an opinion on most everything, so many in racing probably dismissed as mere bloviating his post-Kentucky Derby tweet.

“The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one,” he wrote. “The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby — not even close!”

According to former Trump executive Jack O’Donnell, though, before he was a president, even before he was a reality TV star, Trump had a brief and troubled foray into the Sport of Kings. Trump has denied the story, which O’Donnell included in his 1991 book Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump – His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall.

The story, O’Donnell wrote then, goes kinda like this:

For the man who had everything in the high-flying 1980s, there was something missing: a racehorse.

In the spring of 1988, reputed mob associate Robert LiButti, who also gambled heavily in Trump casinos, was selling a well-bred son of Raise A Native named Alibi, whom he claimed had “Triple Crown potential.” The future president soon took interest, reviewing photographs of the handsome colt and researching the horse’s regal bloodlines. He agreed to purchase the horse. The handshake deal was struck in in a helicopter in the sky somewhere over New Jersey or New York. The price: a cool $500,000. There was however one condition: that the horse be renamed D.J. Trump.

However, Trump thereafter delayed payment for his now-namesake horse. He insisted his name was worth $250,000 and demanded a discount. Mr. Trump also demanded the horse be worked out vigorously in Florida.

The horse went to none other the Giant Killer, Allen Jerkens, in Ocala. Just prior to the time the horse was going to be shipped north to race, a virus struck the farm where the horse was being trained. Though D.J. Trump did not appear ill, Jerkens recommended postponing the horse’s final workout and trip to New York. Though still not having paid for the horse, Mr. Trump directed the CEO of Trump casino to communicate to Jerkens that he wanted the horse racing up north with no delays. The order — “He wants the horse to work” — was relayed to Jerkens.

After the work the horse’s legs began shaking and the horse collapsed. The horse had the virus other horses had at the farm and the workout had exacerbated his condition.

Vets undertook a drastic procedure to save the horse, amputating both front hoofs. The horse would never race, but might at least live, and the hoofs would grow back. Jerkens, the trainer, sobbed as he explained the developments over the phone to LiButti, but according to O’Donnell, Trump was unmoved and, in fact, told another company executive, Stephen Hyde, that he had decided to back out of the deal.

To save the deal — and the millions of dollars in action LiButti brought to the casino — Hyde agreed to pay $150,000,00 for the horse, who would learn to walk gingerly as his hoofs grew back.

D.J. Trump never raced. He had a nondescript career at stud, siring 15 foals until his death in 1991.

In early 1990 Donald Trump left his first wife Ivana for model Marla Maples. That April, a Texas-bred filly by D. J. Trump was born out of the Valid Appeal mare Houston’s Appeal. That filly, amusingly named A Date With Marla, would win twice from 18 career starts, earning all of $4,045 in her career. Her career came to an end 24 years ago, in May of 1995.