“I watched this horse run in person and on video and he had this regal, get-out-of-my-face attitude. He was like a great athlete who knew he was great. I'd been around that kind of attitude before.”
—Bobby Hurley, on buying his racehorse Songandaprayer.
Legendary Duke point guard Bobby Hurley ’93, who played before crazed fans and millions of television viewers, says nothing in his basketball career compared with the pressure he felt the day he spent $1 million on a horse. “The auction was tense enough, but when I signed on the dotted line to complete the deal, my hand was shaking. I watched this horse run in person and on video and he had this regal, get-out-of-my-face attitude. He was like a great athlete who knew he was great. I’d been around that kind of attitude before.”
Hurley’s horse, Songandaprayer, went on to win the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes in Florida, then joined the field for last year’s Kentucky Derby. The thoroughbred set a blistering pace, leading the first half of the fastest Derby in history. Despite falling back to a disappointing twelfth, Songandaprayer’s purses and subsequent breeding fees are returning Hurley’s investment in spades.
At age thirty-one, Hurley probably wishes his professional basketball career had gone as smoothly. Drafted as the seventh pick in the first round of the NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings, Hurley was involved in a near-fatal car accident near Arco Arena just nineteen games into his rookie season. His injuries included collapsed lungs—one ripped from his trachea—broken ribs, a shattered shoulder blade, and a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.
He was back on the court six months later, and he doesn’t use the accident as an excuse. But after helping lead Duke to three Final Fours during his Blue Devil career, everyone, including himself, had expected more. “Maybe it was the system,” he says. “I was never a scoring-type point guard, the kind that seem to do better in the NBA. We also didn’t have many offensive options. I played in the NBA for five years and, while there were more downs than ups, I think it made me a stronger person.”
He last played in the NBA in 1998, and officially ended another comeback last summer when he tore his ACL while playing in the Jersey Shore League.
Through the years and while recuperating, Hurley occasionally visited Monmouth and Freehold racetracks with a friend who had made some wise equine investments. The friend encouraged Hurley to do the same and introduced him to John Dowd, a well-respected trainer. Dowd taught Hurley the ropes and trained Songandaprayer.
The frenzy of a Derby hardly fazed Hurley, who was used to the media, having played under a microscope his whole career. With a no-nonsense demeanor and playground smarts, he led his father’s high-school team, St. Anthony’s Prep in Jersey City, to state championships. In his senior year, he was one of the most heavily recruited guards in the nation. “I leaned toward going to college closer to home, but I met guys such as Quinn Snyder and Dan Ferry while visiting Duke, and had a sense that Durham was the place for me.”
It was a marriage made in hoops heaven. As a freshman in the 1989-90 season, Hurley started all thirty-eight games and collected 288 assists, the most in school history. More tellingly, he showed unusual poise in leading Duke to the Final Four. Says Hurley, “Although we made it to the final, I needed to get stronger mentally. I’d make a bad play and go into the tank. I had a terrible game against UNLV in the NCAA tournament final, and that was definitely a motivating factor going into my sophomore year.”
Hurley became serious about conditioning, lifting weights and working to get his body-fat ratio under 10 percent. “I got the sense that I could be very good if I worked harder,” he says. After starting his sophomore season slowly, he seemed to get better with every game. Both team and player appeared to peak in the NCAA tournament semifinal against UNLV. Hurley, finishing with twelve points and seven assists, had redeemed himself as Duke eked out a 79-77 upset. The Blue Devils went on to win its first national championship in a relatively anti-climactic final.
Faced with the impossible task of topping themselves, the Blue Devils of Hurley’s junior year had a magical run from start to finish. The team finished 34-2, winning the ACC league title and tournament and a second consecutive national championship, beating Michigan in the final by twenty points. Hurley broke Tommy Amaker’s assist record and was MVP of the Final Four. In a tight semifinal game of the NCAA tournament against Indiana, Hurley had six three-pointers and twenty-six points. Says Hurley, “My only regret is that we didn’t go undefeated. We were that good.”
His Duke career ended on a disappointing note when he broke his foot at the end of his senior season. Still, by the time his career was over, he was first all-time in assists and minutes played, second in three pointers, and sixth in steals. The team records, however, mean the most to him: 119-26 over four years, two ACC titles, one ACC tournament championship, three Final Fours, two national championships. His number 11 jersey is one of nine that hangs from the rafters at Cameron—something that caught his eye when he returned last summer to play in Grant Hill’s charity game.
“I’ll continue to dabble in horses, but I’m not making that a career,” says Hurley. He still follows the game closely and is helping his younger brother, Danny, coach at St. Benedict’s Preparatory High School in Newark. It was Danny who introduced Bobby to Leslie, who became his wife in 1995. The couple has two daughters, Cameron and Sidney. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” says Hurley. “I guess you could say I’m still searching.”