Trenton, NJ – Karl-Johan Blank has built a business empire in Europe and is now looking to create a harness racing legacy in the United States.
The 57-year-old is owner and CEO of Jula Holding AB, which features a highly successful chain of 103 department stores throughout Sweden, Norway and Poland. He has also started or purchased numerous other companies over the years, including real estate and financial institutions, hotels, and Hööks, which has 53 stores selling equestrian accessories in northern Europe.
At age 10, Karl-Johan’s parents began with trotting horses on their small farm named Jultorp, which became the inspiration for the company’s business moniker. In 2008, Blank met Tommy B. Andersson, a respected trainer/horseman who hailed from the same area of Sweden. The two went in on the first horse Blank ever purchased and an ownership career blossomed.
“After that I bought some horses almost every year; more like a hobby,” Blank said.
Since Andersson had years of experience in America, it was only natural the duo gravitated to the States. Then it became more than a hobby.
“I decided in 2018 to go to the Lexington Sale and the Red Mile,” Blank said. “That had been my dream and goal for a long time, but I was always busy with my purchasing work at the hardware fairs at that time of year.
“Together with Tommy I bought four horses and one more in Harrisburg. This time they were horses that I really liked, with very good pedigree and at a little bit higher level.”
Included in that group was the Susanne Kerwood-trained Jula Shes Magic, who won the Ontario Sire Stakes Super Final for 2-year-old filly trotters. In fact, “all five were racing as 2-year-olds and did OK.”
Another of those was a colt trotter Jula Trix Treasure – most of Blank’s horses are named after his business – who has his final Hambletonian prep in Saturday’s $89,100 Tompkins-Geers Stakes at The Meadowlands. Jula Trix Treasure, trained and driven by Ake Svanstedt, is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line behind 2-1 Real Cool Sam.
A half-brother to millionaire Uncle Peter, Jula Trix Treasure won a division of the Reynolds Memorial on July 11 and finished second in the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship one start earlier. The son of Trixton-Victory Treasure sold for $145,000 under the name Trixton’s Treasure at the 2018 Lexington Selected Sale.
“I really liked the pedigree on the horse especially with the mother producing a horse like the fantastic Uncle Peter,” Blank said. “I also really liked the way he moved with his star-like charisma. He was a very good-looking horse. I liked the size and Tommy B could not find anything wrong with him.”
Last year, while trained by Per Engblom, the colt had two wins and two thirds in five starts, earning $15,685.
“We realized last year that he was not an early horse because of his size so we gave him a lot time with Per,” Blank said.
After winter training in Florida with Andersson at Sunshine Meadows, Svanstedt began training Jula Trix Treasure in April.
“I have had horses with Ake over the years and thought that he would fit in very well with Ake’s good training and driving methods,” Blank said. “We thought that he should be better and better with every race but of course you never know. So far, it’s been very positive, and I am very happy with what he has done.”
In four starts this year, Jula Trix Treasure has two wins, a second and a third, and $69,575. The plan is to enter him in the Hambletonian, but Blank and Svanstedt will make the final decision after Saturday’s race. Eliminations for the Hambletonian, the sport’s premier race for 3-year-old trotters, will be Aug. 1 at The Meadowlands and the final is Aug. 8.
“I hope he will be one of the best (Saturday), and that it’s a fast race because he’s always strong in the finish,” Blank said.
If the horse does enter the Hambletonian, how might he stack up against the sport’s best 3-year-old trotters? The owner won’t predict a win but thinks Jula Trix Treasure can be among the leaders.
“There are some very good horses, but he is getting better and better for every start,” Blank said. “He is strong and tough. I think he can be a (contender).”
Jula Trix Treasure is one of nine horses in the U.S. now owned by Blank, who is building himself up in harness racing the same way he did in the business world.
Following the oil crisis in 1979 his father, Lars-Göran Blank, founded Jula Industri AB in the family barn to produce a device that was a combined log saw and log splitter. The idea came from his grandfather, Otto, who made circular saws to produce firewood for gas cars during World War II. The business name evolved from farm’s Jultorp title.
Lars-Göran’s wife, Irene, was also part of the operation and 16-year-old Karl-Johan would work there after school as the device began selling well.
Before there was ever Amazon or eBay, the Blanks expanded their business by selling accessories to their invention to farmers in small, mail-order leaflets. Karl-Johan eventually began working for his dad fulltime.
“The business expanded fast with a bigger catalog, so in 1984 we started Jula Mail Order AB and had some very good years,” Blank said.
Father and son became co-owners in the early 1990s, building a chain of DIY stores and changing the name to Jula AB. Rapid expansion of the stores began in 1995 and, a year later, G&K Blanks real estate firm was established. Business sky-rocketed from there.
The Blanks won Sweden’s Businessman of the Year award in 2005 and purchased a company plane one year later. The Jula Hotel was inaugurated in 2007 and the company went international in 2008. Lars-Göran passed away in 2014 and Karl-Johan became owner under the title Jula Holding AB. While still maintaining its department store empire, the company has diversified into numerous fields in creating a billion-dollar business.
On the company website, Blank says “Different business areas have developed and created new business opportunities as the business has grown. Some of these have developed into independent companies that are now part of the Jula Holding Group. With this arrangement we see excellent opportunities for the businesses to support each other.”
As Blank’s professional operation expands, so too, does his Standardbred world. After his 2018 foray at Lexington, he followed up by purchasing five more horses in Lexington and Harrisburg last year. Four of them qualified, giving Blank nine horses that are actively racing. Seven of them have, or will, race this week at Yonkers, Mohawk and the Meadowlands.
Karl-Johan also owns eight horses in Sweden and breeds in his homeland “on a hobby level.”
“There have been some really good times,” he said. “I had a part in Good As Gold; he won the (1995) Swedish Derby and was the best colt in Sweden at 3 and 4 years old. I also owed his son, Filled Gold, that won the Danish Kriterium.”
He is hoping for some more good times in America, and is happy with his arrangement with Andersson, who trains the horses at Sunshine Meadows from sale until the end of April. Blank becomes an interested observer during that period.
“I like to spend a couple of weeks in Florida then, to take time to watch the training and be with the horses,” Blank said. “After April we like to place the horses with the best trainers that we think will be good for the horses. After the season some of the horses go back to Tommy for winter training. I am very happy with the way it’s working out just now.”
Saturday’s card at The Meadowlands also includes two Tompkins-Geers divisions for 3-year-old filly trotters. Next Level Stuff is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the first, Sister Sledge is the 7-5 favorite in the second. For complete entries, click here.