10/14/2014 9:11PM

Industry members advise newcomers at owners conference


Representatives from a wide spectrum of the Thoroughbred industry advised new and potential owners on Tuesday during the Thoroughbred Owners Conference, conducted inside the sales pavilion at Keeneland Race Course. The conference was organized and hosted by OwnerView, an information resource developed jointly by The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Much of the advice given by the day’s panelists centered on surrounding oneself with the best associates possible and maintaining healthy communication with them throughout the process of horse ownership, from breeding or purchase at auction to the racetrack.

Opening the conference was a panel consisting of executives from Keeneland, NYRA, Del Mar, and the Stronach Group, which focused on their joint “Owner’s First” philosophy to attract new owners and cater to existing ones.

In particular, the group addressed the importance of owners making time and getting out for morning training hours. Mornings at the racetrack not only give owners the chance to get close to the horses, they allow more time for personal interaction with trainers, riders, and backstretch workers.

Keeneland President Bill Thomason said that his track held a unique advantage in that area, with a fairly open barn area, and plays into it with the “Sunrise Trackside” program, where fans can observe the morning workouts and become better educated about the Thoroughbred industry through various demonstrations.

"It's one of the morning rituals out here,” Thomason said. “Children are up anyway, so [parents] bring them out here."

The track executives also were in agreement on the push for uniform medication rules, labeling it as one of the biggest priorities of the immediate future.

"I'm confident in the next year or two, you'll see uniformity across the major states," said Mike Rogers of The Stronach Group.

A panel of owners followed, discussing their various approaches to the Thoroughbred business, featuring Brereton Jones of Airdrie Stud, Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing, and Stuart Janney III, co-owner and breeder of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb.

The panel stressed the importance of assembling a team of reliable associates in the racing business, and advised owners to manage expectations when it comes to success.

“I think too many people spend a lot of money and expect a lot of success very quickly,” Janney said. “When it doesn't occur, you've got horses there that need to be fed and medicated and people that need to be paid.”

Janney also instructed the audience to take heed of the Thoroughbred industry’s tight-knit nature, and the reluctance of some to criticize others too heavily because of it.

It is as important for owners to pay attention to what industry members don’t say about trainers and other professionals, Janney said, as much as what they put on the record.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Penny Chenery, owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, spoke to the audience between panels.

Chenery echoed the sentiment Janney expressed about paying attention to what doesn’t get said about the people who handle horses. The popular racing figure also stressed the role of owners in the public eye.

“What I learned as an owner, and I feel very strongly about, is that as owners, we're ambassadors for racing,” she said. “In my day, the established owners were very buttoned up. The showing off I did was on purpose, because we have the obligation to share our excitement, our love of the horse with the fan so they'll become invested with us.”

Following Chenery’s address was a panel featuring prominent trainers Graham Motion, Bill Mott, Dallas Stewart, and Joan Scott, as well as owners Brent Johnson, Dr. J. David Richardson, Dr. Charles Kidder, and Roger McDaniel.

The panel discussed the owner/trainer relationship, and the keys maintaining a healthy partnership. Many of their points re-emphasized the importance of establishing good communication between parties, but also respecting each other’s time and opinions.

“There's going to be a lot of things you don't have your hands on [as an owner],” Johnson said. “You're going to have to trust the information you get from your trainer.”

Following was a panel discussion covering the auction aspect of the Thoroughbred industry, including agents, partnership managers, veterinarians, and auction company staff.

While the auction process can become a heated one when the bidding begins, many of the panelists reinforced the importance of maintaining self-control in order to stay under budget.

“There's no doubt the adrenaline starts pumping in this pavilion,” said Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, “but discipline is absolutely key because there's always another horse.”

The day’s final panel focused on jockeys, featuring Chris McCarron, Donna Brothers, Pat Day, and Rosie Napravnik. The discussion largely centered on the importance of owners and trainers having confidence in their riders, and how each side handles the situation when one of the parties loses that confidence.

“Ultimately, the thing we want to do is win,” Day said, referring to all involved with bringing a Thoroughbred to the racetrack, “and the best way to do that is communicate and be comfortable with one another.”