03/13/2016 12:25AM

Giwner: The Ides of March is coming for owners

Derick Giwner
Signal Hill was a $250,000 yearling purchase currently trained by Tony Alagna.

The Ides of March is coming in harness racing. While March 15 marked the death of Julius Caesar, the famous date also brings hope and agonizing decisions for all owners in the sport as they make final decisions on stakes payments.

Prominent owner David McDuffee, he a co-owner of former Horse of the Year Bee A Magician among others, has 11 yearlings to assess in 2016 and is just as excited as he is guarded about getting too high.

“I’m always excited on the 15th of March because they are all going good in March. Ask me how I feel on the 1st of July and I’ll probably have a different level of enthusiasm,” joked McDuffee as he viewed one of his horses at Sunshine Meadows Equine Center last week.

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“I’ve been at it for so many years that I don’t get too excited about anything,” he continued. “When I talk to my trainers I ask them what the worst one is, because at this time of the year almost every horse can do what they are asking them to do. It is just a matter of putting a lot of miles on them and building their endurance; the speed today seems to be in all of them. When you finally get to the races and the first qualifier you realize that maybe you don’t have what you thought you had. So I try to control my emotions this time of the year.”

The horse getting most of McDuffee’s attention on this beautiful Saturday afternoon was Signal Hill, who he co-owns with Brittany Farms, Marvin Katz and Adriano Sorella. The son of Muscle Hill out of the mare Special Appeal brought $250,000 at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale last October. He was working in company with Mountain Of Love, a $280,000 purchase, and Seven Stars, himself purchased for $225,000. Over $750,000 worth of horseflesh assigned to the capable hands and watchful eyes of trainer Tony Alagna.

Every owner is different when it comes time to stake their horses. Some may throw caution to the wind and heavily stake while others pick their spots. It is not for the faint of heart.

“We go over it pretty carefully,” said McDuffee on the process of staking. “First of all, it is such a huge expense for someone like myself with 15 horses. It can get into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for staking. You have to be a little bit aware of what you are doing and where you are spending your money.

“I’m not in it to make money; I’m in it not to lose money. I’ve had some great horses and I’ve put everything back into the business. I keep adding some to it every year as well. I enjoy it so much, to me it is just like owning a major league baseball team. You can still be hands-on even when you are 75 years old. I do as much as I want with them. I used to jog and train them a little, but I think now we’ll let the younger guys do that.”

Like every owner with a yearling and a dream, McDuffee will make some hard decisions and hope luck brings him the next champion.