Updated on 09/17/2011 11:24AM

First-time owners, first-time Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The dream of every owner is to have a horse good enough to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Only a few are fortunate enough to live that dream. But for the majority of the 12 partners who make up the Azalea Stable, the dream will come true with the first horse they ever purchased - Offlee Wild, who will run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

The Azalea Stable is the brainchild of Lansdon Robbins, a 38-year-old native of Nashville, Tenn. Robbins had futilely chased the Derby dream for nine years, primarily as one of the principals in the Centennial Farms partnership operation, before acquiring Offlee Wild.

Robbins founded his own business, Service Net, based in Jefferson, Ind., in 1996. Several years later, dissatisfied with the results of some of his existing racing partnerships, Robbins decided to form his own group, funded in large part by himself along with investors in his company.

Azalea Stables went to the 2001 Keeneland sales intent on purchasing four yearlings. The first member of the quartet they acquired was Offlee Wild.

"We bought Offlee Wild for $325,000 on Sept. 10. The day before 9-11," Robbins recalled. "I currently have interests in about 70 other horses. But for eight or nine members of our group this is the first horse they've ever owned."

Offlee Wild won his maiden in his second career start at Churchill Downs. A son of Wild Again, he became a graded stakes winner and potential Kentucky Derby candidate by winning Gulfstream Park's Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. Offlee Wild suffered a slight setback when taking ill shortly after finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes but earned a berth in the Derby by rebounding with a third-place finish in Keeneland's Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes.

"I still don't think some of these guys realize how hard this game is or how lucky they are to have a good horse, let alone their first one running in the Derby," said Robbins, who has horses with 14 different trainers, including Bobby Frankel, whose Empire Maker will be the horse to beat on Saturday. "I think I've already created a few addicts, and I doubt I'll have much trouble finding investors for a second syndicate I hope to put together in September."

Robbins said one of the goals of his group, along with turning a profit, is having a good time. When Offlee Wild ran in the Blue Grass, the owners chartered a bus from Louisville. For entertainment on the trip, Robbins showed a four-minute video he made, showcasing the high points of Offlee Wild's career set to the theme music from the movie Rocky and featuring clips of Michael Jordan, who like Robbins, is a former graduate of the University of North Carolina.

Robbins and his partners also had bumper stickers made that read: "I'm Wild About Offlee Wild," which are plastered not only at Churchill Downs but also all around the Louisville area. When Offlee Wild had his final Derby workout on Tuesday, he was cheered on by an entourage that included all 12 owners, along with their families and friends.

"I want everybody to have fun," said Robbins. "I own a number of horses on my own but find it's a lot more enjoyable having horses with a group of owners. That makes this more like a team than an individual sport. I try to keep everybody appraised of what's going on with the horse and of any key decisions that are made. The most difficult problem I've had to deal with thus far is the paddock situation for the Derby. Naturally it's impossible to get passes for everybody. But the partners have been very accommodating. Of course it doesn't hurt that most of them are my business partners and I'm the CEO of the company."

While most of Offlee Wild's owners struck Kentucky Derby gold with their first shovel, trainer T. V. Smith has waited 42 years to saddle his first Derby starter.

"The first horse I owned was Avie's Trick in 1994," said Robbins. "He cost $25,000 and I had a one-sixth interest. T.V. Smith was our trainer. What I liked about him most, aside from the fact he was a horseman's horseman, is that he treated me, a guy who owned one-sixth of one horse, with the same respect he treated his principal owners. So when it came time to select a trainer for this syndicate, I went back to T.V."

Robbins said all the members in the Azalea Stable assembled Thursday evening for a pre-Derby party at the home of one of the partners.

"Of course we're hoping, but not expecting, to win the race," said Robbins. "But if we do [win] it's a pretty safe bet there will be a much bigger party on Saturday night."