On a recent Thursday, equine attorney Bing Bush was helping Dubai royalty close a deal on a Thoroughbred being sold out of Florida, which is expected to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
Bush was contemplating watching the 3-year-old, named Master Daniel, race in the United Arab Emirates. After all, the son of the country’s ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, is a renowned horse enthusiast and known for his generosity.
“He has been my client for about two to three years,” said Bush, a Kentucky native who moved to San Diego in 1987. “That’s one of the best accounts in the whole business. I’m very lucky to have it. He’s marvelous to work for.”
A trip to Dubai may include a free stay at the world’s only 6-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab where rooms are 2,000 square feet with floor-to-ceiling window views of the Arabian Gulf, and come with their own butler. The banisters on the spiral staircases are actually made of gold, Bush said.
“You know what oil money is all about when you go there. I’m in my room watching 40 skyscrapers go up simultaneously 24/7,” said Bush. “It’s mind-blowing to see what they’re doing there.”
While the opulence of $4,000 a night hotel room might seem like a stretch from the horse stalls and Kentucky clover fields of Bush’s youth, they have a mutual connection.
The Kentucky Derby is after all the “Holy Grail” of horse events, said Bush, 48.
“We had a little farm right next to the horse park. I grew up cleaning stalls in the morning, then having breakfast, going to school and coming home and riding until dark,” said Bush.
He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1977 and gave law school a try before dropping out to train racehorses. After a year, he decided to go back to finish the program, which included a pair of summer sessions abroad at the University of Cambridge’s Downing College of Law.
Still lithe at 170 pounds, Bush relies today on his knowledge of the business when closing transactions and syndicate deals with Thoroughbreds and show horses. He also represents jockeys on the Southern California circuit who are penalized for running afoul of race officials and the California Horse Racing Board.
“Bing is a very competent man,” said Tony Matos, an agent for two of the circuit’s biggest jockeys. “I’ve used him quite a bit over the last five to six years. He’s very efficient and professional. You can always get a hold of him.”
A stone’s throw from the Del Mar Race Track, Bush’s office is intentionally easy for clients to find when they come through town for the summer races.
He doesn’t just stay put in San Diego, however, but travels back and forth to his Lexington, Ky., office and attends race meets throughout the country.
“We feel very comfortable about Bing,” said Matos, an agent for 43 years who also raises horses in Palmdale. “He’s very thorough about the horses, he goes to the races, and he follows up. That’s important.”
“I’m not there to push the business. I’m there because I love it,” said Bush, who talks in the excited tone of one who understands his fortune.
“I’m lucky , because horses are something I really enjoy , I always have,” said Bush. “Now I’m able to blend it into my practice.
“One of the things I still love about the racetrack is it attracts people from every socioeconomic background , from the groomers who live there every day and hot walkers not making a lot of money to the owners,” he said. “It’s such an incredible world.”
The sport has changed a lot since his youth. Bush said it’s more competitive , the talent level is far greater , but it’s also more humane, especially for the jockeys.
“It’s an extremely dangerous sport,” he said. “It looks simple, but you’re on a horse going full out, and the horse beside you is going full out, and someone is trying to get around you guys. If they cut you off, it is a dangerous thing to do. Stewards are sensitive about that.”
He represents about eight of the 12 jockeys on the Southern California circuit when they face race infractions called by officials, such as veering out of their line.
Jockeys can appeal a suspension to the California Horse Racing Board in Sacramento. If the board sides with the steward, which it usually does, the jockey has “exhausted administrative remedies,” leaving Bush to file a petition in the state Superior Court.
The court can issue a temporary restraining order against the board , a move which also buys more time for the jockey to race.
“The argument is for simple due process, but you really have to have procedural elements linked up perfectly,” said Bush. “Even if you’re right, the court needs to know it’s on solid footing as a matter of law. You have to have your paperwork together.”
If a restraining order is issued, a jockey has another 30 to 60 days before going before an administrative law judge, who reviews the race tapes. The judge has 30 days to render a decision, which then goes back to the Horse Racing Board to ratify.
“I love doing it. It’s fun,” he said. “The reality is that a lot of jocks just take their days, even if they’re bad calls, because they don’t want to pay a lawyer to fight for them.”
On the other hand, during the Del Mar meet, they may be racing for high stakes & #8209;, either the high purse or competing for a top spot in overall wins, he said.
A winning jockey receives 10 percent of the race purse as well as $60 to $100 per race.
“If you have riders in the title race, neither wants to sit down during Del Mar. They’ll say, ‘Bing, push this thing off. I don’t care what it takes,’ ” said Bush.