Mattress Mack: A colorful gallery of big bet action
There are few more colorful people in the United States than Houston furniture store tycoon Jim McIngvale, or “Mattress Mack” as he is widely known. Not only is the Gallery Furniture owner a hugely successful businessman, with an estimated net worth of about $300 million, but he’s also a unique figure in Thoroughbred racing, breeding, and betting.
McIngvale, whose business began in 1981, has owned racehorses for many years. He first came to prominence in the early 2000s with a number of good runners, among them Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Wimbledon, Swaps (G2) winner During, and two Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) contestants, Bull Market (fourth in 2002) and Consecrate (fifth in 2003).
But he really hit the big time in 2015 with Runhappy. A $200,000 Keeneland yearling purchase, the son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver won seven of his 10 starts, including the King’s Bishop (G1), Malibu (G1), and most notably the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Keeneland. McIngvale was also a strong believer in running his horses drug-free, and thus Runhappy achieved his successes without the commonly-used diuretic Lasix.
McIngvale kept a 75 percent interest in Runhappy when he went to stud in Kentucky at the historic Claiborne Farm, whose previous stallions include Secretariat, Bold Ruler, Mr. Prospector, and Danzig. Runhappy began his career at a $25,000 service fee in 2017 and had 99 foals in his first crop.
Runhappy’s first crop rewarded broodmare owners whose mares visited him that year. He had 64 yearlings sell in 2019 for an average of $222,625, with the highest sale a $700,000 purchase.
His oldest crop turned five in 2023 and as of March 2023 he had sired 11 stakes winners, among them Smile Happy and Following Sea, both Grade 1-placed.
Runhappy remains at Claiborne Farm and is currently available to broodmare owners for a $15,000 service fee.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Runhappy’s stallion career has been the extensive sponsorship surrounding him. McIngvale set about using sponsorship to market his young stallion to an almost unheard-of level once he retired to stud.
If there was a major raceday on somewhere, chances are Runhappy’s name was attached to one of the races. Currently the horse sponsors races such as the Travers (G1), Malibu (G1), Del Mar Futurity (G1), and the Santa Anita Derby (G1); in the past, his name has also been linked to the Carter H. (G1), Metropolitan H. (G1), H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1), Hopeful (G1), Pegasus World Cup (G1), and Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1).
Runhappy has also been sponsor of the entire summer meet at Ellis Park, a track he won on in 2015 prior to his graduation to Grade 1 racing. McIngvale also offered $100,000 bonuses at one point to owners of a colt or filly by Runhappy who won an open maiden at Del Mar, Saragota, or Kentucky Downs.
“I am getting a couple of million dollars a year on his stud fees, but I am spending a lot of it on advertising, so right now it’s kind of a break-even thing,” McIngvale said in 2019. “But if he turns out to be a real good stallion, there will be a lot of money on the table.”
McIngvale has been one of the most prominent businessmen to use major races as a way to promote Gallery Furniture. As he has also done with major sports events, McIngvale has offered major refunds on furniture purchases to buyers during promotions if the favorite won the Kentucky Derby. So anyone who made qualifying purchases worth $3,000 or more from Mattress Mack during the 2021 and 2022 Kentucky Derby promotions potentially had the chance to win thousands.
It’s a potentially expensive promotion, as it drove millions of dollars of sales. But Mattress Mack had just the way to cover it.
To ensure he doesn’t lose money on his promotion, McIngvale has placed massive bets on the Kentucky Derby for the past two years.
In 2021, he placed more than $2 million on favorite Essential Quality to win the Kentucky Derby. Last year, he placed $1.5 million on the nose of Epicenter, who started favorite after a tight betting duel with Zandon. That way, if the said favorite won and McIngvale had potentially millions to pay out because of the furniture refund promotion, he would earn enough from his winning bets to pay for it.
.@MattressMack is going to place the biggest bet in #KyDerby history tomorrow.— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) April 30, 2021
You can get in on the #KyDerby betting action at @TwinSpires ➡️ https://t.co/2YEB4J6rwW pic.twitter.com/zqJBAvKFyb
Both of these favorites went close, but didn’t win; Essential Quality finished fourth on the day in 2021 (later promoted to third with the disqualification of Medina Spirit, though that didn’t affect betting payouts), while Epicenter looked set to win last year until he was passed in the shadows of the post by 80-1 longshot Rich Strike.
He’s also used the same strategy on major sports events, notably collecting $75 million on his hometown Houston Astros winning the World Series last year — which covered $73 million in refunds owed on a money-back promotion for mattress purchases based on an Astros victory.
So the big question for 2023: Is there another huge bet on the Kentucky Derby favorite on its way to pay for a furniture promotion?
Houston business mogul @MattressMack speaks with @ScottShap34 about his love for horse racing, Smile Happy and his @KentuckyDerby 148 wagering plans.— TwinSpires Racing 🏇 (@TwinSpires) April 16, 2022
Thanks to @thepressboxlts!
Bet w/ #TwinSpires pic.twitter.com/mJR45iY0uR