US racing: From the “sport of kings” to the “sport of partnerships”?Posted on February 25, 2015FEBRUARY 23, 2015
In the latest installment of our series looking at the rise of ownership syndicates around the world, Bob Ehalt explores the growth of partnerships in America – and a cluster of recent big-race successes.
George Waldron typifies one of them.
The 71-year-old Hamden, Connecticut, resident has been a fan of horse racing for more 50 years, a bond that started in his youth when he would accompany his father on visits to the racetrack. As he grew into a young adult, Waldron talked with his friends about a buying a horse but nothing ever came of it.
Years later, after he retired from a successful career as an attorney and workers compensation commissioner in Connecticut, Waldron finally decided to fulfill the dreams of many years earlier. After long hours of research, he bought a share of two horses with West Point Thoroughbreds in 2013.
The first one was a 2-year-old colt named Commanding Curve that cost Waldron about $13,000 for a 5 percent share in a partnership that included 15 people.
“I did my homework and saw that for the price of a modest claimer I could get a share of a high-quality 2-year-old,” Waldron said. “I learned that the best way to get involved in racing at a high level is through a partnership, unless you’re a billionaire, which I’m not.”
About a year later, Waldron’s wildest daydreams evolved into an unforgettable thrill on the first Saturday in May when he was part of a 100-person West Point contingent at Churchill Downs that watched as Commanding Curve closed strongly to finish second by 1 3/4 lengths to California Chrome in the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
“It was just incredible to be part of the walkover before the Derby,” Waldron said, “and then to finish second, it was amazing. For something like that to happen to someone like me with my first horse, it’s what, a million-to-one shot? That’s why partnerships are so great. They give you a chance to be part of great races.”
In many ways, the 2014 Kentucky Derby was a bellwether moment for partnerships. Aside from the victory by California Chrome for his two self-professed “Dumb Ass Partners,” Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, and Commanding Curve’s runner-up finish for West Point, the superfecta was rounded out by two of the industry’s larger and more successful and well-known partnerships. Third-place finisher Danza is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, which has a business relation with Cot Campbell’s expiring and pioneering Dogwood Stable group, and Wicked Strong was fourth for Centennial Farms, a partnership first formed in 1982.
“They say horse racing is the ‘sport of kings,’” said Terry Finley, West Point Thoroughbreds’ founder and president, “but it’s the sport of partnerships.”
Barry Irwin, founder and CEO of Team Valor International, says “success is the only real advertising” and in recent years partnerships have attracted increasing attention through numerous success stories in the sport’s best-known races, such as Dogwood’s win with Palace Malice in 2013 Belmont Stakes.
Though best known for buying and then creating partnerships for horses that started their career outside the United States, Team Valor struck gold with the partnership it formed for a homebred colt, Animal Kingdom, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup and earned $8.3 million. With the partnership retaining a share of Animal Kingdom’s stud fees, a CNN story reported that one Team Valor partner who invested just $5,000 stood to realize as much as a 30,000 percent return on his money.
“The Derby certainly gave credibility to our brand and brought us an influx of new people,” said Irwin, whose horses have accounted for 36 G1 victories and earnings of more than $66 million since he entered the partnership marketplace in 1987. “It helped people realize that people with experience and talent at picking out horses can get them access to better horses than they could on their own.”
Even Waldron’s tale has created a trickle-down effect.
During his work years in Connecticut, Waldron became friends with another attorney, John Buckley, who shared his passion for horse racing. Buckley has owned horses since 1988 and has partnered with another friend, Ralph Durante, in claiming horses for the past 17 years. Inspired by Waldron’s ability to own a share of a horse that raced in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers (he was ninth in the latter two races), Buckley and Durante decided to buy into a partnership the first time.
Through Donegal Racing, they purchased a share of Keen Ice, who was third in the G2 Remsen and most recently fifth in the G2 Holy Bull. They also joined Team Valor, spending $12,000 for a 2 percent share of a colt with a $600,000 price tag, Indianaughty. Now three, Indianaughty started his career in England before he was purchased by Team Valor and won a turf allowance race in his U.S. debut at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14.
“George’s experience hit home with us and showed us what can happen if you get lucky,” Buckley says, “If you want a Triple Crown-type horse this is the way to do. It’s not by claiming horse for $20,000.”
Aside from access to well-bred yearlings or 2-year-olds cared for the sport’s top trainers, partnerships have found a niche because of the headaches they remove from ownership. In exchange for surrendering control in the decision-making process, the major partnerships handle all of the time-consuming matters like bookkeeping, licensing, talking with trainers, and arranging for seating at the racetrack.
“We’re full service,” said Aron Wellman, president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, which became a successor to Dogwood after that ground-breaking partnership’s founding father, Cot Campbell, announced in 2011 he would no longer start new partnerships. “Our clients should be able to pay attention to their day jobs and still have a rewarding and entertaining experience in horse racing. I’m so thankful that Cot broke the ownership mold by starting Dogwood [in 1971]. Only he could have succeeded in making partnerships as attractive and as much fun as they are.”
The sport’s major partnerships generally sell shares in horses that start at about 2 percent. Each has a different model for operational costs, some marking up the purchase price and others charging management fees over the course of ownership. For the most part, horses are offered on an individual basis, though Centennial’s business model centers on packages of three or more yearling colts.
“Our whole philosophy is more of an investment strategy because it’s a high-risk investment and the best way to mitigate that risk is through diversification and spreading the risk through a group of horses with a group of individuals, just like any portfolio manager would,” said Donald V. Little Jr., president of Centennial. His late father, Donald Little Sr., founded Centennial 33 years ago and won the 1993 Belmont Stakes with Colonial Affair and campaigned Rubiano, the champion sprinter of 1992.
Though slowed by the passing of Little Sr. in 2012 and the loss of a few major clients, Centennial returned to the national stage last year when a three-horse, $1.5 million package sold in 2012 included Wicked Strong, a colt named for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings who won the Wood Memorial and was also second in the Travers and fourth in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
“Wicked Strong definitely helped our business,” said Little Jr., who points out about 70 percent of each new Centennial partnership includes current clients. “The story behind the name, the donations we made to the Boston Marathon victims really helped things. Even when we won the Belmont Stakes with Colonial Affair it was nothing like this in terms of new people and attention. It put another check in the box in terms of our credibility and the people involved in the horse had such a great experience that they are telling their friends.
“I believe we’ll see new people because of the recent success of partnership horses. The prices of horses will be rising in the next few years because of the supply with fewer horses coming to market and the good horses are going to be expensive.”
An important piece of the partnership mix is that even if someone owns a small share of the horse, they still derive 100 percent of the thrills from the experience.
Irwin agreed that the level of excitement does not hinge on percentage of ownership.
“It doesn’t make any difference how much or how little a guy owns of a horse. When that horse is on the racetrack, it’s his horse,” he said. “Yet even after all of our success there’s still snobbery about that. In the media you have you have people making dumb jokes like, ‘What part of the horse do you own? The ear?’ You find people get snooty when they’re paying millions for horses and people who pay thousands are competing with them.”
Gary Falter, project manager for The Jockey Club’s OwnerView website, said partnerships have done an excellent job of bringing new owners into the sports by proving that people can participate in major races “without putting all of their eggs in one basket.”
Partnerships are also bringing more people to the racetrack, creating a myriad of benefits.
“We definitely helped the local economy in Louisville with the people we brought to the Derby, said Finley, whose West Point group has 80 horses in training with roughly 400 owners. On a list based on Equibase data of the top 60 or racing syndicates/partnerships, West Point topped the chart with 2014 stable earnings of $4,481,710. “Thank God Cot Campbell created partnerships. Racing would be in much worse shape without them.”
And yet, as Irwin sees it, partnerships have not been fully embraced by all aspects of the industry.
“In terms of the maturity of partnerships I believe we’re at about 40 percent in terms of acceptance and viability,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of strides forward in the last 10 years. People who never thought about a partnership are joining them. But racetracks have not fully accepted the partnership concept because they think it’s too onerous and they have to accommodate too many people. Instead of understanding there will be 50 or 100 people here at the races and they are people who are going to bet, visit the gift shop, pay for this, pay for that, they don’t see how a partnership is a plus.”
Of course, another Kentucky Derby like last year or 2011 would no doubt do wonders to change that old-fashioned perception in a sport that is no longer just for kings.
Want To Know What It Feels Like To Own A Horse With Eclipse?Posted on February 18, 2015
BREEDERS’ CUP PRESENTS CONNECTIONS: ‘A KID IN A CANDY STORE’
By: Natalie Voss
Rafael Lopez spent years watching racing from the sidelines as a handicapper and fan, which is why standing in the trainers’ lounge at Gulfstream Park recently made him do something of a double take.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Lopez. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be hanging out and watching a race with a trainer like Mr. Clement, who just won the Belmont last year. I’ll go and watch horses down at Palm Beach Downs and I’ll be talking to Todd Pletcher about a horse … it’s crazy.”
The experience was all the sweeter because Lopez was in the lounge after watching a horse he co-owned finish a strong third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. War Correspondent, a 5-year-old son of War Front, was making his seventh career start after a second in the Grade 2 Autumn Stakes at Woodbine last year.
In the Turf Handicap, jockey Joe Bravo kept War Correspondent off the early pace, swung wide on the final turn, and came within just over a length of the win behind Mshawish and Slumber (GB). Even though he didn’t go home a winner from his first Grade 1 race as an owner, Lopez was thrilled by the experience.
“It was incredible,” he said. “We had a shot in the last sixteenth, which is I think all you can ask for. Considering how wide he was, to see him accomplish what he did …it’s hard to describe the excitement toward the end of a big race like that where you have a shot at it. It’s a feeling I can’t even put into words, honestly.”
Lopez has followed racing since going to the track in New York with his father as a kid. Then, in the 1980s, Lopez briefly owned part of a claiming-level horse but doesn’t remember the experience fondly. He felt disconnected from the major decisions around the horse, and his priorities shifted toward starting a family.
Then, last year, Lopez’s youngest son wanted to visit Gulfstream Park, so the pair made the trip.
“At that point I realized, ‘Wait a minute, I forgot how much I enjoyed this,” said Lopez. “I got online, started Googling some syndicates, and found Aron [Wellman, president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners].”
Wellman invited Lopez to shadow him at Palm Meadows and at the OBS 2-year-old sales, giving him not just the behind-the-scenes tour of the barns, but also teaching him the ‘whys’ behind the agents’ and the trainers’ decisions. That experience got him hooked, and Lopez bought into War Correspondent.
Part of the fun has definitely been the chance to meet some of racing’s big names—Dale Romans, Bill Mott, Joe Bravo, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, and Javier Castellano—in person. Lopez has been impressed with how kind and helpful they have been, particularly Clement, who keeps Eclipse partners dialed in to their horses’ progress.
So far, he’s had a few chances to get up close and personal with the horse, making the drive with his son to Payson Park, where Clement is based, to watch the horse train. Lopez has learned War Correspondent is a very disciplined individual; not only does he snub peppermints, he has a routine about visitors by his stall after training hours. He goes from feed pan, to water bucket, to hay net, and stops to greet admirers before circling back to the feed pan.
“At first I thought it was a coincidence, but then he just kept doing it,” said Lopez. “He’s definitely in control. This guy has his routine, and he will acknowledge you when it’s within his routine.”
As for his next start, War Correspondent’s options are likely the Kilroe Mile, the Appleton, or the Tampa Turf Classic. Wherever the horse starts next, Lopez is enjoying the ride.
“There’s times where my wife gives me a look—she’s not quite as into the races as I am, but she’s getting there—she’s heard me talk about these people and she’s like, ‘You look like a kid in a candy store.’
G Five hopes to turn on jets for Sam F. Davis StakesPosted on January 30, 2015
- By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
OLDSMAR — G Five, the colt with the clever name, didn’t have much game.
Five months after reaching a low point in his brief career, G Five faces his biggest test Saturday afternoon in the Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, headliner on Festival Preview Day at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Sam F. Davis, a 1 1/16th-mile event for 3-year-olds, is Race 11 at 5:20. The undercard includes the Grade III $150,000 Endeavour Stakes (10, 4:50) for older fillies and mares on turf, and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes (9, 4:20) for 3-year-old fillies.
The Sam F. Davis remains off the Kentucky Derby qualifying point series, and the Downs has dropped last year’s promotion of a $1 million bonus to the winner of the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby.The Sam F. Davis, a 1 1/16th-mile event for 3-year-olds, is Race 11 at 5:20. The undercard includes the Grade III $150,000 Endeavour Stakes (10, 4:50) for older fillies and mares on turf, and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes (9, 4:20) for 3-year-old fillies.
But Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners president Aron Wellman, 37, of Del Mar, Calif., said the Sam F. Davis represented an enticing target for his G Five’s first stakes.
“It’s unfortunate for Tampa Bay that there aren’t any Derby points associated in play,” he said. “But we’ll be able to avoid having to run against the bonafide Kentucky Derby trail-type colts, because everybody’s scrambling to get those points to gain entry. At this point, we don’t consider G Five to having established himself as a legitimate Derby contender.
“This should provide him with the opportunity to prove whether he can continue to elevate his game. A good showing in the Sam F. Davis might propel him into the Tampa Bay Derby (the Downs’ only Kentucky Derby qualifier offering 85 total points on March 7).”
G Five starts from post-8 with jockey Rajiv Maragh as seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher goes for his sixth title in the 35-year-old event. Pletcher also entered Royal Son, whose owner WinStar Farm has five Sam F. Davis victories.
G Five has been a work in progress. The son of 2006 Kentucky Derby runner Flashy Bull and out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Fly Don’t Drive didn’t impress early as a juvenile. He was too laid back in morning workouts and in his first race, a seventh-place finish against maiden-special weight sprinters on Aug. 3 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
Changes ensued. G Five was moved to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, blinkers were added and he was stretched out after winning a $25,000 maiden-claiming sprint by 8 lengths. His first effort at 1-mile resulted in a 4-length victory against allowance-optional foes. He has been third in his past two races. Overall, the Kentucky-bred has two victories from five starts and $39,300 in purse earnings. “(The changes) certainly have translated into more focus and a determined racehorse,” Wellman said.
G Five was purchased for $145,000 at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in Lexington, Ky.
“We thought that he was cut out to be more of a sprinter when we first bought him based on his physique,” said Wellman, whose Danza finished third in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. “So it is a bit of a surprise that he actually seems to be better suited toward two-turn races.
“You can’t take anything away from his blue-collar sort of persona in that he grabs his lunch pail every day, and he goes out to work. He’s not going to wow you. But he’s one of those that by virtues of his try, and what ability he does have in conjunction with his endurance, is a horse that at this time of year could certainly work his way up the ladder.”
G Five’s name was derived from an astute play of his pedigree’s names.
“A G Five is a type of jet that the privileged individuals in this world have access to and are able to fly around, whether it’s business or holiday,” Wellman said. “G Fives are very fast jets (and) we’re hoping that G Five would be fast and classy.”
ADENA SPRINGS REOPENS FLORIDA STALLION DIVISION; CAPO BASTONE JOINS ROSTERPosted on December 2, 2014by Press Release | 12.02.2014 | 12:52pm
Adena Springs announced today the restoration of their Florida stallion operation at Adena Springs South, commencing with the 2015 breeding season. The 3800-acre facility will be home to Capo Bastone, City Wolf, and Hunters Bay.
One of the best of his generation at two and three, Grade 1 winnerCapo Bastone was named a TDN Rising Star after his dominant Del Mar debut, followed by placings in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and FrontRunner S. (G1). He was weighted at 119 on the Experimental Free Handicap that season. At three, Capo Bastone returned to capture the prestigious sire-making King’s Bishop S. (G1) at Saratoga by two widening lengths.
City Wolf and Hunters Bay both entered stud in 2014, and will relocate from Pleasant Acres Stallions in nearby Morriston, Florida, and Heritage Farm in Chesapeake City, Maryland respectively. Their first foals arrive in 2015. City Wolf is a graded stakes winning half-brother to leading sires City Zip and Ghostzapper, by three-time champion sire Giant’s Causeway. His dam is Broodmare of the Year Baby Zip, by Relaunch. Champion Older Male in Canada, Hunters Bay, by Ghostzapper, was a multiple graded stakes winner/grade 1 placed winner of over $600,000. His dam, Smok’n Frolic, by Smoke Glacken, was a six-time graded stakes-winner of $1,534,720.
“It’s exciting to reenter the Florida stallion market with such solid stallions that all have the credentials for success,” said Jack Brothers. “Mr. Stronach has a long history of breeding success in Florida, and this return underscores his commitment to the Sunshine State. We’ve hired Declan Doyle to handle stallion season sales and nominations—he brings a wealth of experience to the table–and we have promoted long-time Adena Springs assistant Gregg Falk to the position of stallion manager.”
Doyle said, “I am very pleased to be a part of the Adena Springs South stallion team. They are a world class operation, and the facilities are the finest in the state. I’m looking forward to the challenge of reestablishing a formidable stallion operation here.”
An Open House and Stallion Show will be announced at a later date.