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OwnerView speakers focus on thrills racehorses provide
HALLANDALE, Fla. – Owners descended on Gulfstream Park for the second OwnerView Conference to learn about racehorse ownership, and on the second day of the two-day affair on Wednesday they heard a lot about the great upside, and sometimes tragic downside, of racing, and this may have whetted many of their appetites to achieve those same heights in the sport. That’s because the current and prospective owners had a chance to hear from sports radio host and racehorse owner Jim Rome as well as Triple Crown-winning owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat.
Rome was the keynote speaker at OwnerView, which was established by the Jockey Club to help educate owners on what to expect when they became involved in racing and how to best establish a racing operation in order to minimize risk and maximize profit and fun. Approximately 200 people attended the conference.
Rome, speaking in the morning session, talked extemporaneously about his experiences in racing. He said he was the most unlikely person to be addressing owners on racing because he really had no interest in racing till recently. He said on his nationally syndicated radio show, he included racing only on a few times a year, such as around the Kentucky Derby. Then one day a few years ago his wife talked him into buying 10 percent of a horse as a way to get out and find a hobby of sorts.
The first horse he owned won a race the first time out.
“When that horse hit the wire my life changed in an instant,” Rome said. “It was the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t wait to get back to the radio station to talk about this amazing thing. It was in my blood and I couldn’t shake it.”
Rome went through his career as an owner, talking about buying a filly in training named Mizdirection, who went on to win two consecutive Breeders’ Cup races, and then talking about the highs and lows of his purchase in partnership of Shared Belief. He bought the horse after his maiden win and saw the gelding win an Eclipse Award as champion juvenile male. Rome lost the horse from colic several months ago, but he said he wants to stay in the business because the highs outweigh the lows.
“My best days at work are not as good as the most electric, surreal days I’ve enjoyed at a track,” he said. “Other than my wedding and the birth of my two sons, nothing compares.”
Zayat was a surprise speaker, since he was not on the agenda, but he was interviewed for about 10 minutes by conference MC Tom Durkin after the first panel. Zayat is in the area in advance of the Eclipse Awards on Saturday night when American Pharoah will no doubt be awarded Horse of the Year after becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 38 years.
Zayat talked about how he got interested in horses – he grew up around horses in Egypt – and after he sold his beverage business at age 40, he said he wanted to pursue the passion of his youth.
“Everyone dreams about having a winner and I’m living the dream,” Zayat said. “It starts with passion.”
He said American Pharoah is the smartest horse he has ever been around, and his greatness comes from those attributes. That, plus Zayat noted, American Pharoah has a long, 27-foot stride and he just floats effortlessly over the ground.
In going through his emotions for each of the Triple Crown races, Zayat said that before the Kentucky Derby, he wanted to win the race for Zayat Stable, since the stable had finished second three times, with Pioneerof the Nile, Nehro, and Bodemeister, and he wanted the win badly for the family. For the Preakness, he said he wanted it for the horse. He wanted American Pharoah to show how good he was and win off like he always had been able to do, though not in the Derby. Zayat said the Derby was his hardest race.
"Going into the Belmont I wanted him to win the race for the sport," Zayat said. "If anyone can do it, it is that horse. When he won, it was an incredible, surreal moment."
The first session on Wednesday was on success stories in racing and featured panelists Sheila Rosenblum, Ken Ramsey, and Don Little Jr., with Mike Penna moderating.
The three owners talked about how they approached the business and their advice to new owners. Both Little and Rosenblum recommended partnerships or syndicates, to minimize risk.
“I’m an advocate of a syndication because you have a heck of a lot of reward and a lot less risk,” said Rosenblum, who campaigned in 2015 Eclipse Award sprint female finalist La Verdad.
Little, who runs the Centennial Farms partnership, said it is important to find people you trust and stick with them and a business plan.
“The people we put together in 1982 are still with us today,” Little said. “There will be ups and downs, but if you’ve proven it before, stick to your guns. This is a long-term relationship. Be comfortable with who you’re dealing with. The relationship you build will never be forgotten.
“We purchase the horses together. Manage them together. We want [our partners] to experience the sport like never before. If you get that bug and passion, very few leave. Horses can take you around the world and to places you’ve never been to before.”
Ramsey, winner of multiple Eclipse Awards as owner and breeder, takes a different approach. He does it his way.
“I don’t like partners,” Ramsey said. “I like to paddle my own canoe. I have to be the guy in charge. That’s my personality. Either you’re an entrepreneur or not. I know my limitations. If I’m not good at something I find someone who is. I trust in myself. I believe in myself.”
Ramsey cited the experience he had in other businesses, like radio, cellular communications, and real estate, in which he has been successful without knowing anything about them.
“If you have a business model that works, you can use that model for racing,” Ramsey said. “I’ve used that model in a lot of other businesses. If you don’t know something, find the experts who do. I didn’t know anything about cellular business or radio stations, but I hired professionals who did.”
More importantly, said Ramsey, racing is a great sport to be involved in for one reason: “If you want to invest in fun, this is the place to invest in.”
The second panel dealt with caring for the horse and aftercare. The panel was composed of Dr. Jim Chiapetta, Dr. Robert O’Neill, Madeline Auerbach, Erin Crady, and Stacie Clark Rogers, with Alyssa Ali moderating. The emphasis was on aftercare. The panelists stressed to the owners in the audience that they needed to have a plan for their racehorses when their racing career was finished.
“We all want to stand stallions and have mares that are bred,” said Auerbach, an owner-breeder in California. “But we’re all faced with geldings or horses that will not be bred and you have to determine what happens with that horse.
“You have to have a game plan when your particular [racing] plan is finished. A horse can live for 25 more years. You have to have an exit strategy and plan for your horse.”
Crady, with the Thoroughbred Charities of America, said that Thoroughbreds are versatile and can have a long career after racing, provided they are taken care of on the track.
“We plan for our futures, and we should do the same for our horses,” Crady said. “For a sound Thoroughbred, the future is unlimited. But they have to be sound.”
The last panel of the conference dealt with the racetrack and all the people who come in contact with an owner’s horse or play a role in the game. The panel consisted of just Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of Gulfstream Park. Ritvo talked about the vets, exercise riders, blacksmiths, and others who were important to keeping an owner’s runners sound and in training.
The closing remarks were from Bill Lear, vice chairman of the Jockey Club. Lear said that the racing industry must continue to do a better job of educating owners to both get new owners for the sport as well as retain existing owners.
Lear indicated that the third OwnerView Conference will be held in the week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. It most likely will be held Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. The Breeders’ Cup is Nov. 4-5.