May 20, 2019

Kentucky Derby Horse Races for Poway

A mud-caked Gray Magician, immediately after the race. Photo courtesy of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners

Although Gray Magician finished 19th at the 145th Kentucky Derby on May 4, the longshot horse served a greater purpose: to raise money for Chabad of Poway and organizations that work to combat anti-Semitism.

On April 27, Gray Magician’s owners — Aron Wellman, Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners — decided to send the Southern California horse to run the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. 

Hours later, Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed, and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Almog Peretz and Noya Dahan were injured in the Chabad of Poway shooting. The next day, the three owners, together with trainer Peter Miller, pledged to donate a portion of the horse’s potential winnings to Chabad of Poway.

“All four of us are Jewish,” Wellman, who belongs to Chabad of Rancho Santa Fe less than 20 miles from Poway, told the Journal in a phone interview ahead of the race. “We knew that we needed to honor Ms. Kaye [and] the Chabad of Poway shooting [victims], and to try and use our platform, as one of 20 horses competing in the Kentucky Derby, to not just contribute monetarily [but] to raise awareness [of anti-Semitism], educate as much as we can and hopefully inspire others to follow suit.

“Even if we can help educate [one person], we’ll feel as if we did something,” Wellman added, “though obviously, [it’s] no consolation for what has transpired in Pittsburgh and now in Poway, which is in most of our own backyards.”

Following the race, Wellman said of Gray Magician’s 19th-place finish, “We’re still proud of him and his effort, and take pride in the cause we were running for and representing.” The partners plan on donating $5,000, which will be split between Chabad of Poway and the Butterfly Project, which helps educate young children about the Holocaust and the dangers of anti-Semitism via the arts. Another industry company, thoroughbred auction house Fasig-Tipton, generously matched Eclipse’s pledge.

“We knew that we needed to honor Ms. Kaye [and] the Chabad of Poway shooting [victims].— Aron Wellman

A licensed attorney, Wellman lives in Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County with his wife and two children. He fell in love with horses and horse racing when he was 8 years old, and spent his summers working for trainers. In 2008, he left his law practice to become vice president of the renowned Team Valor, which forms partnerships with racing enthusiasts and members of the industry to run thoroughbreds at major racing venues in the United States and abroad. Three-and-a-half years later, Wellman launched Eclipse, which now boasts 85 horses.

Born and raised in West Los Angeles, Wellman attended Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where he went to Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah. “It was instilled in me from a young age to be proud of my Judaism,” he said, “and to have the faith and the Yiddishkeit of being a Jew.”

While Wellman was raised Reform, his wife, Talya, who was born in South Africa, was raised Orthodox. As a result, Wellman said he has become more observant.

Following the attack at Chabad of Poway, Wellman said “Rabbi Goldstein is a pillar of strength. The manner in which he has been able to speak, represent Chabad, represent the Jewish community and the Jewish faith is a tremendous source of pride. We all come from different backgrounds, but our Judaism and our faith connects us all. We are all irate about what’s going on currently in society, and we need to do everything we can to quash this surge of anti-Semitism.”