07/01/2010 12:00AM

Q&A: Barry Irwin

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Barbara D. Livingston

President of Team Valor International (teamvalor.com), a racing stable that forms ownership partnerships. Team Valor has campaigned such stars as Ipi Tombi, Prized, Star of Cozzene, and Cashier's Dream

Birthdate: April 21, 1943

Family: wife, Kathleen; daughters, Chloe and Katherine

Where did you grow up, and how did you get involved in racing? "In two Southern California communities, first Santa Monica, then Beverlywood. My family hated anything to do with horses or gambling − except for an aunt, Bertha, and a great uncle named Fischel. Bertha and her boyfriend first took me to the races when I was 7. The boyfriend showed me how to handicap. Fischel was a broken down, degenerate gambler who blew his bakery stores by gambling on horses. He lived with our family the last few months of his life and taught me a lot about horses. All of my best friends growing up loved the horse races. I used to go with them from a very early age. We would sneak in and get old guys to place bets for us."

Who was your first horse? Where did he or she race? Any good? "My first horse was an aged broodmare back in 1972. I bought horses for others before I ever bought my first one. The first horse I sold was Chain, a Claiborne reject who became a big-time producer. My first racehorse was Sari's Tobin, which I claimed with some friends for $35,000 at Hollywood Park. She won right off the bat, got stakes placed, and we sold her for $120,000."

How did Team Valor get started? Was it an easy launch? "Team Valor was started in 1992, when two partners Jeff [Siegel] and I had in Clover Racing Stables refused to join us in investing more capital into the venture. So Jeff and I started Team Valor. Our first runner was My Memoirs, who ran second to A.P. Indy in the Belmont Stakes. That made it easy as pie." [In 2007, Irwin bought out Siegel.]

How many horses does Team Valor own? In how many countries does Team Valor race? "Most are in the United States. We have about 32 horses in South Africa counting breeding stock. At home and abroad we have 20 older horses, 23 3-year-old horses, 22 2-year-old horses, and 28 yearlings. We have racehorses in the U.S., South Africa, England, France, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Germany. Most of our older horses were bought. Most of our younger horses were bred or bought as yearlings."

Do you do all the horse searching and deal-brokering? "Agents that we have dealt with for years send us prospects everyday of the week. We also prospect on our own. We buy our own yearlings. We find it helpful sometimes to have outside agents broker a deal for us when we plan to buy half of a horse, as the negotiating process can become a bit emotional, and if we plan to race a horse with a new person, we don't want to haggle with them, because it then becomes difficult to race with them."

What's the strategy buying horses in training? "The strategy is that buying a horse that is already in motion takes a lot of the guesswork and risk out of the equation. Generally, one has to pay a premium for a horse that is moving, but many times paying a premium is worth the risk involved. Racing is about movement. When one can see a horse move, they can tell whether it can run, whether it has a good chance to stay sound, and how much class it might have. It would be nice to be able to buy 2-year-olds at a sale that were moving, but not going a furlong so fast that they could win the Olympic 100 meters. The fastest horse I ever bought at a 2-year-old auction did not even breeze. I bought her off a gallop. She became the dam of Henny Hughes.

Who is the best Team Valor horse ever? "Ipi Tombe. She beat males in the Dubai Duty Free. She was a total freak."

Who's the best horse you've ever seen? "Secretariat. Hands down."

U.S. racing's biggest problem right now is . . . "Medication. I want all raceday medication banned and plan to work as hard as I can to achieve this goal because it is bad for the horses and is killing the sport's public image."

Compare the problems faced by racing in this country with those in other countries. For instance, are things tough in South Africa right now? "Racing is thriving in Hong Kong and Australia. It is hanging in there in France and England. It is deep trouble is most other places. Young people have not embraced it. Until somebody figures out exactly how to get them involved, we are losing our steam."

Has Team Valor had to adapt to the post-financial crisis economy? "Yes. We have offered more affordable horses. We have offered terms. We have sold some of our homebreds. We have tried to be as prudent as possible in the amounts of money we spend on horses."

The best 3-year-old in the country this year is . . . "Was Eskendereya. He was the only real colt of the crop. I do root for Drosselmeyer, though, because we raced and sold his dam, Golden Ballet, who is now owned by our friends Aaron and Marie Jones."

If Barry Irwin were not making a living in horse racing, he would be . . . "A writer. I probably should have stayed in Southern California, become a script writer, earned a ton of money, and made horse racing my hobby."

What's the weirdest social or cultural experience you've had, related to racing, in the course of your travels? "When Ipi Tombe won the Duty Free, we had a few South African partners. When we walked the filly to the winner's circle, these guys each grabbed a piece of a corded lead shank to steer her to the enclosure. These guys, who were all very large, were so excited and into the whole scene that some sort of primal animal instinct took over, and they began grunting and roaring like wild beasts as they marched. It was, on the one hand, exhilarating, but on the other hand very scary. I felt like I was walking toward the winners' circle with a lion, a water buffalo, and an elephant. Needless to say, they were really into it!"