Jack and Laurie Wolf
Both longtime racing fans, the Wolfs founded Starlight Stables in 2000 when they purchased six yearlings at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale. Among the group was a bay colt by Harlan who developed into multiple Grade 1 winner Harlan’s Holiday and launched Starlight into racing’s upper echelon.
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Jack worked as a teacher and hedge fund manager with Columbus Partners in Atlanta before retiring to concentrate on racing. Jack also orchestrated the launch of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), the industry's first broad-based initiative dedicated to helping retired Thoroughbreds, and he serves as board president of the TAA. A native of Louisiana, Laurie serves as co-managing partner of StarLadies Racing, Starlight's new all-female partnership, and also serves on the board of the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs. The couple resides in Louisville and Saratoga Springs, New York.
Donald and Barbara Lucarelli
Residents of Duanesberg in upstate New York, the Lucarellis spent part of every summer for three decades at Saratoga Race Course, envisioning the day when they might have their own racehorses. When Donald Lucarelli’s family business, Bellevue Builders Supply, was sold in 2004, the couple decided to invest in some runners. They turned to the Wolfs, whom they had met at a party the year before, and immediately scored with Grade 2 winner Keyed Entry.
In 2006, the Lucarellis were able to enjoy their first Saratoga stakes winner and first Breeders’ Cup starter with Starlight’s Octave, who blossomed into a multiple Grade 1 winner in 2007.
Honored with the Eclipse Award as America’s outstanding trainer in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2013, Todd has shattered many of racing’s most significant records for trainers. Over those years, he has set several records for single season earnings, with his runners amassing $28,571,697 in 2007 alone, nearly $8 million more than the first such mark he set in 2005. He also set records in 2006 for stakes wins with 100, which was eight more than the mark set by his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, and for graded stakes victories with 57, four more than Lukas’s record.
Todd’s amassed numerous training titles in New York, Kentucky and Florida (37) and has trained horses to 11 National Eclipse Champion titles, including Starlight Racing’s Ashado and Shanghai Bobby. Ashado won the title of Top 3-Year-Old Filly in 2004 and came back the next year to win Top Older Female. Shanghai Bobby was crowned 2-Year-Old Male Champion of 2012. Other Eclipse Champions trained by Pletcher are Uncle Mo, Rags to Riches, Lawyer Ron, English Channel, Wait a While, Fleet Indian, Speightstown and Left Bank.
He’s topped the leader board in earnings seven out of the last nine years (finished second in 2008 and 2009) and sits in third place on the all time leaders’ list with over $234M in career earnings.
His first classic win came in 2007 with Rags to Riches who made history as only the third filly to win the coveted Belmont Stakes, and the first to do so in 102 years. The filly out-dueled eventual 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin in a breathtaking stretch run. His next classic win came with Super Saver who won the prestigious Kentucky Derby in 2010.
Todd captured his 3,000th career win, Feb 11, 2012 in the third race at Gulfstream Park. At 46 years old it’s safe to say that Pletcher is well on his way to becoming one of the best trainers in the history of the game.
Todd began working with racehorses at age seven when he served as a hot walker for his trainer father, Jake Pletcher, at Ruidoso Downs. After graduating from the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in 1989, he went to work for Lukas and helped develop champions Thunder Gulch, Serena’s Song and Flanders. Now, having come full circle, Todd still works with his father as his father’s Payton Training Center breaks and starts many of the horses that Todd trains.
Doug Matthews has spent the majority of his life around horses. Originally from a small town in Iowa, he began working with racehorses at age 14, taking summer jobs during high school walking hots at Ak-Sar-Ben. It was during this time that he worked under Jack Van Berg, who gave him the opportunity to work with top horses such as 1984 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner and 1985 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) runner-up Gate Dancer.
Doug remained on the racetrack following high school, working his way up from groom to assistant trainer for Jeff Benson in Nebraska. He then went to work for Danny Switzer, who brought him to his current home base of Chicago. Following six years with Switzer, Doug worked for Noel Hickey, who was leading trainer at Arlington during this time. During his seven-year tenure with Hickey, Doug had the opportunity to work with several graded stakes winners including Buck’s Boy, winner of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and 1998 Eclipse Award winner for Champion Grass Horse.
Doug began training on his own in 1995, starting with a modest stable of 7-8 horses and building up to his current string of 25 horses. He has enjoyed stakes victories with a number of runners, ranging from Runaway Victor, his first stakes winner and earner of $400,000, to Major Rhythm, a G3 winner and multiple graded stakes placed gelding with $800,000 in career earnings, who is still in his barn as a pony. He is based in Chicago and in New Orleans during the winter. He also takes a small string to the Keeneland meets in April and October. Doug has been training horses for Starlight Racing since 2010 and currently has four Starlight horses under his care: Achaemenes, Luna Bay, Ready's Legend and Patsy's Holiday.
Known among influential racing participants for his keen ability to assess potential in young horses, Frank is working with the Starlight team to select the best yearling prospects at sales. The New Orleans native and Louisville resident followed his childhood interest in horses to become a trainer, eventually directing public and private stables for clients including Claiborne Farm, Lazy Lane Farms and Bruce Lunsford. He also collected leading trainer titles at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds and Louisiana Downs in his distinguished career.
Frank retired from training early in 2009 to focus on bloodstock work after achieving feats such as purchasing and developing 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Hansel, the Champion male of his generation. He also purchased and developed the talent in such standouts as Grade 1 winners Secret Hello, Arch, Madcap Escapade and First Samurai. Grade 2 winners Mighty and Belair Beauty and Grade 3 winners Ocean Crest and Tessa Blue. With more than 270 stakes wins to his credit as a trainer, he also developed talented homebreds and Grade 1 winners Pulpit and Oath.
Notable runners that Frank has purchased for Starlight Racing include Grade 2 winning filly, Position Limit; 2012 Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes winner, Algorithms; 2012 Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes winning colt, Thunder Moccasin; and 2012 two-year-old Champion male, Shanghai Bobby. Frank is married to former jockey Donna Barton Brothers, who now works as a television racing analyst for TVG and NBC Sports and joined the Starlight Racing team as Chief Operating Officer in 2012.
Jake “J. J.” Pletcher
A Thoroughbred trainer since 1969, J. J. gives early breaking and training lessons to Starlight’s rising stars. Since he founded the 80-acre, 96-stall Payton Training Center in Ocala with Betty Massey in 1999, he has launched the careers of numerous stakes winners, including champions Left Bank, Wait A While and English Channel and Graded Stakes winners More Than Ready, Marley Vale, Jersey Girl, Victory Ride, Balto Star and Go Deputy to name a few. Utilizing his 25 years of racetrack experience, J. J. designed Payton’s five-furlong training track with gentle turns to minimize the impact on young horses’ legs. His program starts with ground driving and riding in confined spaces prior to track work. “We try to teach them to go out there, relax and not be afraid of anything,” he says. J. J. is the father of Starlight’s trainer, Todd Pletcher.
Chief Operating Officer
Donna Barton Brothers
Donna began riding professionally in 1987. From a family of riders, being in the saddle came as second nature to Donna. Her mother was a professional jockey (one of the first few women to be licensed as such in the United States) and her father was a rough-stock rider on the rodeo circuit. Her brother and sister are both former jockeys.
Donna was the leading stakes winning rider at the Churchill Downs’ 1995 spring/summer meet and rode Hennessey to a second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that year. She retired from race riding in 1998, as the second leading female jockey in the country by money earned. That same year she married former thoroughbred horse trainer Frank Brothers.
She began dabbling in on-air horse racing coverage with Television Games Network (TVG), ESPN, and the Fairgrounds Race Course in the fall of 1998 and worked for Churchill Downs as an on-air racing analyst and handicapper from 1999 through 2003.
In 2000 she began working for NBC Sports as their on-track reporter and racing analyst on their thoroughbred horse racing shows and has since covered the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup among many other thoroughbred horse racing events and races for NBC Sports. She has also covered the Hambletonian Stakes, the Rolex Three Day Event, the World Equestrian Games, the AQHA World Championship Show, and Professional Bull Riding (PBR) for that network and, additionally, still covers horse racing for TVG.
In 2011 she published a book titled, Inside Track: Insider’s Guide to Horse Racing. Written with the knowledge that there’s a huge learning curve for newcomers to horse racing and there were no books out there acting as a beginner’s guide to the sport.
Debby has had a lifelong love affair with horses and, in fact, showed and owned horses for most of her life until 2004. She has competed with hunters and in barrel racing and has, over the years, reformed several former race horses into show hunters. Debby has a diversified background in the thoroughbred business and, in fact, her first job in the thoroughbred industry was with Lee Eaton (Eaton Sales Agency) where she worked in sales, on the farm and in the office. She also worked for former trainer, John T. Ward, for 10 years. With Ward’s operation she broke yearlings, rode sales horses, galloped horses at the track and oversaw the breaking of yearlings.
Debby no longer works with horses in the capacity of riding but now has many years of experience in the office. Her office work has included stallion bookings, brood mare records, sales entries, stakes nominations, office to client communications, and bookkeeping among other duties.
As an aside, Debby is an avid gardener with a fervent interest in daylilies and herbs. In fact, she’s a certified Kentucky Master Gardener and an accredited Daylily Exhibition Judge and Garden Judge. She also works in mutuels at Keeneland during their spring and fall meets. You can find her tending to her mutuels window on the first level--track apron--facing the track.
Debby has been with Starlight Racing since 2007 and has gone from handling simple invoicing to overseeing all of the bill paying; invoicing; partnership splits; partner communications with regard to work, race and training updates on the horses, and much more. She makes everyone’s job at Starlight Racing much easier and is an integral member of the Starlight team.