I wish I could tell you that the last time I saw Jim Hurst, it was a memorable experience. It wasn't. We happened to run into each other at a local lunch hot spot, and we chatted for a few minutes. In true Jim fashion, he saw me across the restaurant, shouted out my name, and greeted me with a smile.
Two months later, he was dead.
For those outside the horse racing business, his name probably doesn't mean much. But to those within the industry, he was someone you never forgot. Probably because he never forgot anyone he met.
Jim and I worked together for a time at The Blood-Horse, but since he was in advertising and I was a staff writer, our paths rarely crossed. That doesn't mean he didn't know who I was, and that didn't stop him from spotting me in the middle of the lunch rush two years after I had left the publication.
When he passed away unexpectedly at age 51 on Aug. 11, 2011, many people in the industry were shocked. He was more than just the sales director for a trade publication. He had become a friend, a mentor to many.
He also left behind his wife, Jennifer, and two young daughters, Madison and Mollie. It didn't take long for a children's education fund to be set up for his girls, and plans to hold a golf scramble to raise money were quickly put in the works.
That golf scramble will be held Sept. 28, and many in the industry will be taking part, but those behind the Jim Hurst Memorial Fund Committee wanted to do more.
So for any of you fans out there that noticed 16 notable halters were put up for auction on ebay.com over the weekend, this is the story behind them.
"We were at Malone's after the funeral, and we knew we wanted to do something," said Jim Cox, the head of marketing for Darley America. "Jim loved to golf and he loved to fish. We landed on the golf tournament pretty quickly.
"I have a couple halters I bought in the past, and I have them framed up shadowboxes. It seemed logical to do a halter auction as well. Jim was so involved in the business. I thought it would be a cool thing. We originally were going to do it at the event itself, but after seeing other halters sell online, we figured why not have millions bidding instead of a few hundred?"
So, beginning in March, Cox started collecting halters. And not just any halters. Currently up for auction are halters worn by 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, pensioned leading sire Storm Cat, and 14 of the last 17 living Kentucky Derby winners. Due to various reasons, halters from Silver Charm, Charismatic, and Animal Kingdom were unable to be obtained.
That list alone makes it clear how the farms felt about Jim Hurst. War Emblem's halter gets the nod for the farthest traveled, making its way from Japan, while Mine That Bird's may get the prize for the most used.
Jim touched so many people, and he is the thread that joins it all, all these farms, all these people.
”-- Jim Cox, friend of Jim Hurst
"I didn't have to twist any arms," said Cox. "A lot of these farms were Jim's clients. They have been very generous. Not only did they put up halters, they also donated money. It really goes back to Jim. He was such a personable guy, and he is the common thread. So many people have stepped up. Jim touched so many people, and he is the thread that joins it all, all these farms, all these people."
The halters can be found under the seller's name "Comeonseabiscuit," which was one of Jim's pet phrases. If you are interested in viewing or partaking in the auction, which ends Oct. 1, click here.
Over the weekend, I was the leading bidder on Mine That Bird's halter. Behind Silver Charm, he is my favorite Derby winner. I happened to bet on him in that race, which he won at odds of 50-1, and I figured the least I could do was pay it forward. Alas, I was out bid on Monday and the price is now getting beyond what I can rationally spend. But to whoever out bid me, well done. Every penny of the money raised in the auction is going to a college fund for Jim's girls, so it is pretty hard to be mad.
"It has just been crazy," said Cox. "Jim's wife is blown over by it all. She has been adamant that everyone knows that she can't touch this fund. It is for their daughters. She can't believe the response."
Ebay halters can be a tricky thing. After all, anyone can go out to a tack shop and have a halter made that has the name plate Zenyatta. Rest assured, every single one of these halters was collected by someone in the industry, and every single one comes with a letter of authenticity.
Friends of the Hurst family have also set up a wepay.com account for those who are interested in donating money but can't partake in the golf tournament and aren't in the market for a halter. In all they hope to raise $30,000 this year.
"We would be really pleased if that were to happen," said Cox. "I don't expect it to be as big in ensuing years, but this will go on for at least a number of years. It will probably be more golf focused, but we will come up with something horse-related, too. The money is going to add up for those girls if we can keep doing it every year."
For those of you wondering why Cox is so determined to help Hurst's daughters, it is because they were best friends. They worked together at Blood-Horse for a number of years, and Hurst was in Cox' wedding.
"I have two children, and my oldest is the same age as his youngest," Cox explained. "I sit there and think, if this happened to me, I would hope that my friends would help out in some way. If it was the other way around, I know Jim would have done the same thing for me. He was a good guy, and I think this is just a testament to how many people liked him and the impact he had on peoples' lives."
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.