Rod MacPherson, a former president of the International House of Pancakes Restaurant chain and an avid Quarter Horse owner whose horses included great champions Separatist and Sign Of Lanty, passed away on Friday night after a suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. He was 87.
MacPherson campaigned horses for over 40 years and was on the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association Board of Directors since 2001, serving as chief financial officer. He worked closely with PCQHRA president Dominic ‘Bud’ Alessio on the association’s annual budget. MacPherson, who was a multiple franchisee with IHOP, was also a member of the board of advisors for the restaurant.
“Rod was probably was one of the most reliable board members we’ve ever had,” Alessio said. “He was always the first one ready to help. His business knowledge and experience was indispensable and he was an incredible supporter of horse racing at Los Alamitos. He was tough, but when push came to shove he always supported racing. He loved the industry and was always positive. He had a good life. This is a big loss for the industry. There’s no doubt about it. He always said that wanted a memorial at Los Alamitos Race Course. That’s how much this place meant to ‘Mac’. We’ll make sure that happens.”
MacPherson is one of only four Quarter Horse owners to have been presented the title of PCQHRA Owner of the Year more than once since the award's inception in 1977. With trainer John Cooper at his side, MacPherson campaigned some of the greatest runners ever at Los Alamitos. That list includes three-time AQHA divisional champion Separatist and three-time AQHA distance champion Sign Of Lanty, one of the top 870-yard Quarter Horses of all-time. He also campaigned six-time stakes winner Classic Sassy Chic and 2016 Governor’s Cup Futurity winner AJS Anna Smoke. He bred 1988 Governor’s Cup Derby winner Bonsai Billy.
“Mac and I go back 41 years in the horse business,” Cooper said. “We were as close as friends as you can be. We could have been brothers. We had a lot enjoyment with the horses. The good horses we had were very special and we had some real good ones. I remember the first one we had when he first started. It was a cheap, little claimer that we co-owned, which eventually got claimed. Mac went back and claimed him right back as sole owner. He was very competitive in that way. We enjoyed many successful years. He bought a couple of horses, some fillies, and eventually he started breeding and got some nice stakes winners. We had a lot of good moments. Losing him leaves a big hole in racing.”
A native of Swampscott, Massachusetts, a town located near Marblehead and about 15 miles north of Boston, surely MacPherson never imagined that hotcakes would play such an important part in his life when he first moved to California in the late 1950s.
"I had just come from back east and I didn't have a job," he said. "I applied for a job at Burbank Airport, a managerial job. The fellow that interviewed me said that he had a lot of interviews and he would let me know. As I was driving away from the interview I saw this place called International House Of Pancakes in the town of Toluca Lake (IHOP). It was the very first IHOP restaurant. When I saw it I thought, 'what's a pancake house?' "
Intrigued, MacPherson walked inside the restaurant to talk to the man in charge. He asked if he could fill an application for a manager's job but was told there was little chance of him getting that job.
“He told me, 'I'm the manager, but I need a cook.' He asked me if I could help him out because they were opening the restaurant that Monday. I didn't want to be a cook, but he was such a nice guy. I told him that I would help him out until I got a call from the airport. I went in to the restaurant on that first day and it was crazy. People poured in. We didn't know what we were doing. I was working 16-hour days. I finally got a call from the airport telling me that I had been hired and I immediately accepted the job. When Mr. Al Lapin, the founder of IHOP, heard that I was leaving he came to talk to me and promised me that I would become the manager of the next restaurant. Sure enough, I became a manager and I went to work."
In time, MacPherson rose to become president of IHOP for a seven-year span. In the 1970s MacPherson switched from the company’s boardroom and into ownership of IHOP franchises.
"I used my severance pay to form Mr. Stax, Inc. and my business partner, Richard Sandnes, and I started buying everything we could from (IHOP).”
MacPherson and Sandness had as many as 53 restaurants, everywhere from California and Nevada to Boston and New York.”
MacPherson prided himself on being the “the last guy left from the original IHOP guys.”
“I was there from day one,” he said. “Al Lapin was a great entrepreneur. He took the company from nothing to the New York Stock Exchange in 10 years."
When once asked to define his role with Mr. Stax, Inc., Mac said with a smile:
"I'm the Dr. Allred of Mr. Stax,"
MacPherson first became involved with horses for pleasure riding. Then his family showed Western Pleasure Quarter Horses.
“A guy who used to sell us coffee by the name of Jack Robinson was the first to take me to the Quarter Horse races,” MacPherson said. “At first I was apprehensive, but then he said the races were at night. 'Oh, at night?' I remember saying. I went and I enjoyed it. I met trainer John Cooper and Carol then I started going once a week. Jack asked me if I wanted to own some cheap horses and after we talked about it we became partners. My first horse was Rhythm Duster. The horse won seven races in a short period of time. 'How easy is this?' I thought. I had a lot of hard-hitting claimers. My first good horse was a mare named Ms Kelly. She became my foundation mare."
Sired by the Top Deck stallion Rebel Cause, Ms Kelly finished her career with five victories and earnings of $17,144.. Her highlight was a win in the Yakima Fall Futurity. As a broodmare, Ms Kelly was the dam of 10 foals, nine starters and seven winners. She was bred to Beduino with great results, as the mating produced Bonsai Billy, which earned over $230,000 and won the Governor's Cup Derby. MacPherson also stood a 1968 stallion named Ricas Gold, who had the blood of Kentucky Derby winner Bold Venture and Quarter Horse Little Joe on the top side and Top Deck and Three Bars on the bottom side.
At yearling auctions, his best buy was an eye-catching gray named Separatist from Ed Allred’s Rolling A Ranch, which MacPherson purchased for $26,000 at the 1998 Vessels/Schvaneveldt Yearling Sale.
"John Cooper looked at Separatist at the sale and he really liked him,” MacPherson said. “He had a splint on the inside of one of his legs but we did not care. We thought that that could hurt his price, which was good for us because we wanted him. We thought that he would go for $50,000 and I would have paid that much for Separatist. After I bought him, I remember Dr. Allred came up to me and told me 'if you ever sell that horse, I want first shot at him.' "
A son of Chicks Beduino and out of Allred's great mare Separate Ways, Separatist would win 16 of 24 starts and $889,044 in his two years on the track, while being named the 1999 champion 2-year-old and 2000 champion 3-year-old and champion 3-year-old colt. After Separatist’s racing career ended, MacPherson sold the colt to Allred, who promptly syndicated the champion.
"I wanted Separatist to get rolling right away as a stallion,” MacPherson said. “Having Doc Allred lead the way, I knew that he would get the best mares around, and he would get about 100 of them.”
Separatist sired 2005 World Champion DM Shicago and multiple AQHA champion Moonist.
MacPherson also campaigned three-time distance champion Sign Of Lanty, the winner of 16 stakes races at Los Alamitos, third all-time here, only behind Charger Bar and Kaweah Bar. MacPherson claimed Sign Of Lanty and the gelding went on to win 28 races.
Among his top female runners, MacPherson rated the Grade 1 placed runner Babe On The Fly and multiple stakes winner Classic Sassy Chic among his best. He would eventually sell both mares, but replaced them with Annas Babe, the young mother of AJS Anna Smoke.
When he was presented with the Frank Vessels Memorial Award in January of 2010, MacPherson was fresh from fully recovering from three heart surgeries in 14 days, which included one to repair a blood clot over his heart and another one to replace a heart valve.
“It got serious for a while,” said MacPherson during an interview six years ago. “My wife, Anna, was my nurse. She watched over me. I was in the hospital for 25 days and she was instrumental in getting me out of there in one piece. God blessed me during that difficult period of my life.”
In recent years, MacPherson also kept horses with trainer James Glenn, Jr. Their collaboration included promising juvenile, Kiddy Up Cowgirl, a qualifier to both the Governor’s Cup Futurity and PCQHRA Breeders Futurity.
“Even before I started training for him, I would often talk with Rod about current events and politics while having breakfast in the track kitchen at Los Alamitos,” Glenn, Jr. said. “We struck a friendship and had many good conversations. Rod knew that I didn’t have many horses at the time and was struggling. He gave me an opportunity to train some of his horses and we did well together. He was very generous. He was a good friend. He was also incredibly smart and a brilliant businessman. He was just a great guy.”
Rod MacPherson was preceded in death by his wife, Anna, who passed away earlier this year from an illness. He is also survived by his daughter, Robin, plus three stepsons, four stepdaughters and many grandchildren. Memorial services are pending. For more info, please call 714-820-2690.