02/21/2009 1:00AM

Owner brings youth, aggressiveness


He is the antithesis of your stereotypical owner in the sport of Thoroughbred racing: young, optimistic, and willing to go out on a limb.

At just 33, Rich Averill is what the people who run racetracks usually only dream about. Having started his career in racing as many eventual owners do - his interest was piqued when he would accompany friends to bet the races at Tampa Bay Downs, near his hometown of Bradenton, Fla. - Averill has become a perennial leading owner at Tampa and Calder, with the tentacles of his stable also reaching periodically to Delaware Park, and tracks in Kentucky.

"Everybody tells me I'm good for the game because I'm young and aggressive," Averill said. "A lot of people in racing are conservative. I'm a risk taker. I think that, in the right hands, horses can be a good investment for people, although everybody knows this is a very tough game."

Averill has owned and operated a Bradenton construction company, Rich Averill Masonry, since his mid-20s. His father, who had his own construction company when Rich was young, taught him many important elements of the business. They both were working for the same company in 1997 when the elder Averill, also named Rich, died in a fire.

"Soon after that, I was promoted from laborer to manager, and before long I was running things," he said. "And then I quit to start my own company, even though I was about to get married."

Averill began dabbling as an owner at the 2002 Tampa meet by getting into a partnership that owned a gelding named Fun n' Gun.

"He won a couple races," he recalled. "We won a little money and had a lot of fun. I was on my way."

Today, Averill owns more than 25 horses. By his count, 14 are active runners with trainer Kirk Ziadie at Tampa, five are yearlings, six are broodmares, and two are 2-year-olds.

On Monday, Averill won one of the Ocala Breeders' Sales races when R Brown Sugar drove to victory in the $50,000 Sprint. Winning stakes is nothing new to Averill, as one of the first horses he owned solo was R Lady Joy, winner of the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks and the Florida Oaks at Tampa as a 3-year-old of 2005. Initially purchased for $72,000, R Lady Joy retired with earnings of $581,586 after an abbreviated 4-year-old season and was sold through Fasig-Tipton for $400,000.

"I definitely got lucky right off the bat," Averill said.

But instead of using the windfall from R Lady Joy for other things, Averill plowed it back into horses, acquiring them primarily through public auctions and the claim box. The result has been a seemingly endless run of action and success, particularly at Calder and at Tampa, the quiet little Gulf Coast track that has gained remarkably in stature in recent years with the installation of a turf course, the upgrading of several stakes, and a purse structure to attract high-quality stables and entice shippers from south Florida and elsewhere.

With 16 wins from 35 starts, Averill is easily the leading owner at the current Tampa meet. If the current trend continues, it will be the fifth time he has won an owner's title, following the 2005-06 Tampa meet, the 2006 and 2007 Calder meets, and the 2007 Tropical-at-Calder meet. Perhaps most impressive is that he is perennially among the leading percentage owners wherever he goes. For his entire career as an owner, through Monday, 648 starters had won 185 races for a lofty 28.5 percent. Total stable earnings surpass $3.75 million.

"I love training for the guy," said Ziadie, Averill's primary trainer. "He understands the game and he knows the patience that must be taken with these horses. He doesn't push me and tell me where to run. We communicate very well, and he takes care of my help. He's definitely great for the game, and Tampa knows it. He dedicates his life to racing."

Averill also has employed Wesley Ward and Steve Margolis as trainers, "but right now we're focusing on Tampa only, so Kirk has everything for me," he said.

Averill, who has a 9-year-old son named Richie, spends most days during the Tampa meet taking in the live action. Because the soft U.S. economy has been particularly tough on the construction business, he has eased up on his equine purchases.

"I probably haven't claimed a horse in a year," he said. "But we are still looking at the sales, and I'll probably get a couple horses that way this year."

Barry Berkelhammer, the longtime adviser to Jack Wolf of high-profile Starlight Racing, serves in the same capacity for Averill at yearling and 2-year-old sales.

"My first homebreds ran last year," Averill said. "That's expensive. The best way for me so far is to buy horses in the $40,000 to $60,000 range, usually 2-year-olds in training so as to keep down the costs. You can usually get a runner in that range, even if you're sacrificing pedigree. I've only bought two horses privately, and they didn't work out at all, so that's the end of that."

Many of the Averill horses start with the letter "R" in an attempt to perpetuate the good fortune he had with R Lady Joy.

"One of my early partners, his name also started with 'R,' " Averill said. "So I've just kept naming them that way."

Besides R Lady Joy and R Brown Sugar, six other such "R" horses have carried the familiar white-and-black Averill silks. Otherwise, some of his favorites have included Fortunate Trail, a winner of 11 races in 2007; Paradise Dancer, a winner of five stakes in 2006-07 at Calder, including the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Handicap; Jewels N Gems, a two-time stakes winner; and Ruby's Red Socks, a winner earlier this month in starter-allowance company at Tampa.

"Ruby's Red Socks is one of my all-time favorites," said Averill, "because I claimed him for $8,000 and he's run a couple of 100-plus Beyer Figures and won five races for us. He's what the game's about."

It might be argued that a young, enthusiastic owner like Averill is what the game is about, too - or should be, whenever possible.