It is tough. Sometimes, very tough. As a horse owner, you fulfill your dream of buying a magnificent animal who can run like there’s no tomorrow. You find a trainer who takes care of your investment and then, at age two for most, they start racing. If you’re lucky, you recoup your investments, but most of the time that’s not the case. As an example, you could pay $60,000 for a yearling, and once you hand him or her over to a trainer, the stable fees can range from $50 to $125 (or more) per day, and that’s seven days a week, 365 days a year. The stable fee alone can be in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.
The horse trains well and then it’s time to find the colt or filly a race. Is it turf, dirt, synthetic, and is it 5 ½ furlongs or six or seven or a mile or more? Furthermore, you have to find a race with a suitable purse. On Thursday, October 10, there was such a race at Belmont Park. It was the seventh race, a seven furlong affair for two year old maidens with a purse of $70,000 before a crowd of 1,512. For some in the field of seven, it was their first ever race, for the others, their second or perhaps third. For the winner, Theros, it was a $42,000 payday, a nice sum, but in order to Theros to earn his keep, he will have to keep earning and of course, stay clear of injury. For third place finisher Gara Gattino, it was his first race and he ran well, and more importantly came out clean. Purchased for $60,000 as a yearling trainer Mark Hennig now has to take stock of the colt’s performance, consult with the owners and decide when and where the next race will be.
Many owners get into the game knowing that they probably won’t make tons of money. It’s called the Sport of Kings for a reason and when you’re the founder of a Fortune 100 company, losing a few hundreds of thousands of dollars isn’t that a big of deal. Take Mike Repole for example. A co-founder of Vitamin Water, he sold that business for a couple of billion dollars, then got into the horse racing game. He leaves his horses to Todd Pletcher, who because he’s at the top of the training game, probably submits a heavy bill to the sport drink magnet. For Repole, it scratches a competitive itch and keeps him relevant in the circles. His wife Maria’s name is used for several of Repole’s horse’s. Apparently, Maria likes to shop as one of Repole’s fillies carries the moniker “Stopchargingmaria.”
George Steinbrenner owned the Yankees, but loved horse racing. The rumor was that Steinbrenner would have traded one World Series title for a Kentucky Derby title. In fact, longtime Pittsburgh Pirates owner John Galbreath used to needle King George, saying that “we both have World Series titles, but I have Kentucky Derby winners (two) and you don’t.” Many say that the uber competitive Steinbrenner hated the needling, jealous of his fellow owner’s multi-sport crowns.
Let’s say that you get a horse that turns into a star, like Princess of Sylmar has. Bred in Pennsylvania, owner Ed Stanco placed her in Pennsylvania bred races because there was bonus money to be made in them. Since most horses are born in Kentucky, states like Pennsylvania and New York offer incentives to breed in their respective states. The Princess got going and dominated against fellow Pennsylvanians. Eventually, she landed on the big stage and has won four graded stakes races in a row. She won the Kentucky Oaks, and on September 28, she beat the great and older Royal Delta in the Beldame at Belmont Park. She’s winning and she’s making money and today, owner Stanco has a dilemma.
Stanco keeps saying that he wants the Princess to run as a four year old. He also keeps saying that he wants to shut her down for the rest of the 2013 season. But, if the filly could talk, she’d be telling Mr. Stanco to “let me run because it’s so much fun.” Know that I’m old school, and know that horses can’t talk, but if they could, they’d beg to race and more importantly, to keep racing. They’d be pleading, “don’t shut me down for the season, let me go.”
My favorite story is that of Woody Stephens back in 1982. Stephens had a nice three year colt named Conquistador Cielo. He started late so didn’t run the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, but by Memorial Day, “CC” was ready, so Stephens entered him against older horses in the Met Mile. After he dominated the field, Stephens said that the colt would run the Belmont Stakes five days later. And, as legend is, Cielo dominated the Belmont and picked up a Triple Crown victory for the venerable trainer. The point is that these great engines love to fire.
Back to Stanco. He has a dilemma. As much as he wants to save her for 2014, there are no certainties in the sport. She’s white hot right now, and the Breeder’s Cup Distaff beckons. It’s calling his name; I’m sure that when Stanco lays his head to bed at night, he hears the calls and I’m sure when he wakes up the next morning, he hears those same calls. He knows that if the Princess goes to Santa Anita and wins that Distaff, she might be Filly/Mare of the Year and you know what, she may even be Horse of the Year. She could go there and bottom out and that could affect her in 2014, so yes, this is not an easy decision, nothing in this sport ever is.
The only thing Stanco and I have in common is that he is from Schenectady and I currently live near Schenectady. I could write my name over myself and fall on him tomorrow and he would never remember me. But, I would like to give him some unsolicited advice—-run that girl! This is yours and hers 15 minutes of fame, go for it and don’t look back. That little filly wants to run and run badly. When she pulled up to the classy Royal Delta, many in that 10,000 plus crowd thought that RD would put the little baby in her place, but instead, the opposite happened. The youngster looked the veteran in the eye and took off. That’s how good she is. And, if she’s that good right now, keep running her. As I said, horses can’t talk, but they want to race, and this Princess not only wants to, she’s loving it. If you kept winning races, wouldn’t you want to keep doing it?
Don’t deprive her and don’t deprive the nation of seeing her. You’re thinking that for sure, Breeder’s Cup 2014, but she may be in a different place then. She’s too hot right now, and each night and morning when you reflect, you know I’m right.
So Mr. Stanco, see you at Santa Anita.