01/31/2014 1:47PM

Guest commentary: Lifeblood of racing is dreams


By Alan P. Henry

It’s all about the dream. That’s why most people buy Thoroughbred racehorses. That’s what the industry executives who run the sport need to more creatively promote.

They could start with Bourbon Lane Stable’s 3-year-old gelding Bourbonize.

He won his debut at Churchill Downs last November, then drew away in a one-mile allowance test at Oaklawn on Jan. 10. With solid and rising Beyer Speed Figures, his next test is scheduled to be the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 17.

I am one of a group of partners who own the horse, and the win has unleashed in me what I believe to be the game’s most visceral and marketable assets – unbridled hope and giddy anticipation. Dare I speak the words, “first Saturday in May?”

ESPN.com recently ranked him 85th on its lineup of horses navigating the Derby trail. My reaction to that: somewhere in the fantasy world between, “I wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” and “We’re in a good spot.”

I am not alone in understanding the primal payoff of horse ownership.

“Anyone who has a horse they think can run – it totally consumes you,” said West Point Thoroughbreds founder and president Terry Finley. “Anticipation is a huge part of the overall return that a lot of people are looking to get.”

“If you own a horse, train a horse, groom a horse, or ride a horse, that horse becomes an extension of your persona,” said Cot Campbell, the father of modern-day public racing partnerships and the founder and president of Dogwood Stable. “I don’t care how rich you are or how poor you are, it gives you a shot at shooting the moon, of getting even with the rest of the world. It provides hope, and what a great commodity that is.”

Sure, the dream is most often dashed, but that’s not the point, Campbell said.

“It is annoying to me to hear somebody say, ‘I had a horse, and he wasn’t any good.’ Well, that is usually the case, but if you buy a yearling, every day, five or six times during the day, there is going to be an injection of hope and excitement and happiness.

“You can think, ‘I’ve got that yearling, and he is in training, and he might be okay,’ and that is going to happen to you throughout the day. It is a wonderful thing to have that kind of positive thing pumped into your activities. And then six months later, when the horse runs, and he doesn’t run well, in most cases there is a reason, there is an excuse. You’re gonna get ’em next time, and there is more anticipation. So, even if in the end it has been a complete flop, still, every day in your life, for a year and a half, you provided yourself with exciting, successful thoughts and a zestful look into the future. Most people overlook that, and it goes by unnoticed. They should recognize, every damn day, ‘I had positive thoughts.’ ”

As for me, my brain has been nothing but a swarm of positive thoughts since Bourbonize’s second win. I’ve already picked out my Derby tie and begun a slush fund code-named “car repairs” in the checkbook. Plans are well under way for pre- and post-race revelry.

Of course, if and when the fantasy crashes and burns, well, as Bogart said in “Casablanca,” “We’ll always have Paris.” And what a hair-on-fire ride it’s going to be until that happens.

Memo to horse racing industry executives: Figure out a way to bottle the buzz, then get it to market, and horse ownership will fly off the shelves.

Alan P. Henry is an author and veteran journalist. He lives in Deerfield, Ill., and has owned horses for 25 years.