Owner/Breeder Q&A: Lee Searing of CRK Stables
In the last 21 years, Lee & Susan Searing’s CRK Stable—named for children Christina, Richard, and Katherine—has won well over 200 races for more than $15 million in earnings. CRK’s graded/group stakes winners include such talented runners as Our New Recruit, Kobe’s Back, Kettle Corn, Switch, and Candy Boy. Their best runner to date, though, has been the brilliant Honor A.P., devastating winner of the 2020 Santa Anita Derby and fourth in the Kentucky Derby despite a bad start and a nine-wide turn into the stretch.
Honor A.P. now stands at Lane’s End, alongside his sire Honor Code, and resides in the stall of his legendary grandsire A.P. Indy.
Post Times contributor Jim Mulvihill caught up with Lee Searing, 73, to talk about his life with Thoroughbreds and what made Honor A.P. so popular in his first season at stud.
JM: How did you first get interested in Thoroughbreds?
LS: My mother and father lived in El Segundo, close to Hollywood Park. When my grandfather came from Ireland he loved the horses and went to Hollywood Park every day. We’re talking 1948 to 1956, when they took me for the first time to the races.
From there it became a family affair. On weekends we would attend the races, whether it was Santa Anita, Del Mar, or Hollywood. My father became involved in horse ownership right away down at Agua Caliente and I’ll bet you that from 1956, when I was eight, to 1966, when I turned 18, we attended 80 percent of weekends there. We won more than 100 races at Agua Caliente and we loved Tijuana
I purchased my first horse, Secret Touch, when I was 18. I said to my father, “They have $2,000 races down there; would you split a horse with me?” I was working by then, while going to college, so I put up $1,000 and I paid my fair share of the expenses. Our trainer was L.W. Jenner, whose nickname was Swede. He wore a suit and tie to Caliente every Saturday and Sunday. We won our first three races with Secret Touch and I was off and running.
How did you come to run such a successful business?
When I graduated from college, in 1970, I went to work for my father, who had just started a business making welded steel tubing. The tubing goes into construction, homes, fencing, medical equipment, screen doors, furniture, scaffolding. It goes into everything.
By 1985 I wanted to own my own company so I put together a group that included my brother, Jim, and my father, who came out of retirement to help me out. We started with no money, no machinery, no sales, no anything. We started Searing Industries out in Los Angeles. That company spent five years growing and almost going broke before we moved out here to Rancho Cucamonga near a steel mill, which gives me my raw material. From 1990, when we moved out here and started to grow, things got better. We continued to buy equipment, we continued to grow. By 2012 we opened up a huge 400,000-square-foot facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We now have two locations and 200 employees.
How has your racing stable and breeding program grown?
There were about 10 years after we started the company when we had no money so we didn’t own any horses and I didn’t really even have time to follow the sport. But around 2000 I started to buy 2-year-olds-in-training and claim high-priced horses with John Sadler. Now my horses are with John Shirreffs and Peter Eurton.
I have a breeding program trying to raise horses and buy better mares with [bloodstock agent] David Ingordo. I buy six to eight yearlings every year and I have a broodmare band. We race some and we sell some. The past few years I have doubled down on horse racing and today I own many more horses than I’ve ever owned in my life.
How did you come to campaign Honor A.P.?
He was bred by George Krikorian and David is friends with him so we knew about the horse a little bit. When they put them in The [Fasig-Tipton] Saratoga Sale, David called and said, “Lee, we have to get this horse, but he’s going to cost a lot of money.” I said, “Just send me a picture.”
I looked at the pedigree and the horse was by Honor Code, who stands at Lane’s End, just like his sire A.P. Indy did. We only had a chance because Honor Code was just getting started and we were lucky enough to buy him. He was an expensive yearling ($850,000) and he trained well from the beginning. I named him but I felt I had to check with Lane’s End first. They loved that I was going to do that.
He ran his first race and got a bad start or he would have won that one, too, but then immediately took off. We put him in a two-turn race and he showed his brilliance.
When he won the Santa Anita Derby, if you watch it, Authentic looked him in the eye and Honor A.P. was bigger, stronger, and faster. Then in the Kentucky Derby we got a bad break but we obviously ran the fastest time [adjusted for ground loss]. I think we had the best 3-year-old in the country and we just had really bad luck with a very minor injury after the Derby.
What were Honor A.P.’s greatest attributes that you hope to see in his progeny?
He’s always been an absolutely gorgeous horse and every quality that you want to be a stallion, he’s got it. He had a tremendously strong foreleg, tremendously well-defined hip and shoulder, and a beautiful head on him. He is definitely a horse that can go two turns so he has a lot of brilliance. Stamina was never his problem; he was precocious.
When we decided we would syndicate him there was a lot of interest right away. He bred 110 mares in his first year and I’d say that’s sure admirable.
Is it true he’s in A.P. Indy’s old stall?
There was never a horse in A.P. Indy’s stall until we made this deal. Honor A.P. got the stall, his pasture, and his groom. That’s just such an honor and so exciting for me. It’s something people haven’t really heard about yet and was done rather quietly but maybe once Honor A.P. produces something really special you’ll read about it more.