Crunch Time Nears for Schafer and Pegasus Cup

With the Breeders’ Cup fields finally beginning to take shape and everyone having a much clearer picture of who the leading stars are, it is time to begin looking past November 4th and 5th and getting a long-range view of racing’s newest phenomenon, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup, which Steve Martin would describe as “a wild and crazy race.”

Whenever I think of this event, which will be run on January 28 at Gulfstream Park, I keep hearing the music and lyrics from the hit musical Evita: “And the money kept rolling in from every side…When the money keeps rolling in, you don't ask how; think of all the people guaranteed a good time now…Here's all you have to do my friends; write your name and your dream on a card or a pad or a ticket.”

In other words, once the Breeders’ Cup is over, the money is going to start rolling in from all directions and the wheeling and dealing is going to begin.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse, this is a race where owners will be putting a spot in the starting gate before the horse. That’s right, they’ve committed to run in a race for a cool million bucks apiece even though the majority of the 12 people who are all in don’t even have a horse to run in it.

Not only does 33-year-old Dan Schafer, one of the 12 lucky golden ticket holders, not have a horse to run in the race, he doesn’t even have a horse, period. Schafer, who owns a number of Jet’s Pizza franchises in Northern Kentucky, is an aspiring Thoroughbred owner who has never owned a horse, yet is determined to participate in the Pegasus World Cup in one way or another.

Schafer’s philosophy is: why spend a million dollars on unproven yearlings when you can make an immediate impact on the sport with one clean shot? In addition, he will have big-time owners with a top-class horse who desperately want that spot groveling at his feet trying to convince him to sell his starting berth, or more logically sell him a part of their horse by convincing him their horse has the best chance to land the $12 million purse and $7 million first prize. It’s a simple equation. They want to run their horse and he wants a horse to run. That is going to make for some serious wheeling and dealing and highfalutin melodrama. Do I see a reality series in the making?

No sooner did the announcement come with the details of this wild race, the brainchild of Frank Stronach, all 12 spots were gone. Those who purchased a place in the starting gate are the owners of California Chrome (California Chrome LLC), Coolmore, Jerry and Ronald Frankel, Sol Kumin and James Covello, Jim McIngvale, Paul Reddam, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Ruis Racing, Starlight Pegasus Partners, the Stronach Group, Jeff Weiss of Rosedown Racing Stables, and, of course, Dan Schafer.

The Stronach Group was prepared to purchase three slots if interest appeared lacking, but that certainly was not necessary when so many owners came pounding on their door flashing their $1 million checks.

As reported on back in May, the race will be restricted to 12 horses, and owners with a spot in the gate can race, lease, contract, share a starter, or sell their place in the starting gate. Also, original entrants will have the first option to participate in future Pegasus World Cup races.

Owners will share equally in 100% of the net income from pari-mutuel handle, media rights, and sponsorships from the Pegasus World Cup. As for the purse, which would be the largest in the world, the winner would get $7 million, with $1.75 million for second, $1 million for third, and $250,000 for the fourth- through last-place finishers.

So, let racing’s version of the game Risk begin. One person who can’t wait is pizza maker Schafer.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to get involved in the sport,” Schafer said. “Never did I imagine it would happen like this. I grew up in the pizza industry. I worked at a very young age and my dad owned a family business. When I was 11 or 12 I’d go into the store with him, so work has been embedded in me since I was a child. After high school I started working for my father. He gave me a great start in life. From there I opened up some franchises in Traverse City, Michigan. When I was engaged I told my fiancé, ‘Hey, we’ve got a hell of an opportunity here. Let’s move down to Northern Kentucky.” I’m a Detroiter, and me and my wife come from very strong Italian families and are family oriented. The Schafer is the German in me from my father’s side. We’re a very close knit family and a lot of people weren’t too thrilled with the move, but they were all supportive, because they knew it was a great opportunity.”

So, the Schafers headed down to Northern Kentucky, which has a vast number of franchises, and opened up some pizzerias as part of the Jet’s Pizza chain. Schafer didn’t want to be any more than a five-hour drive from his home in Detroit, and being in Kentucky allowed him to be closer to the horse racing industry, which he planned on being involved in some day. Even though he operates under the name Jet’s Pizza, his corporation names are Derby Dreams, Derby Dreams II, Derby Dreams III etc.

“When this race came about it was a no-brainer for me,” Schafer said. “I’ve been waiting to get into the game and the opportunity presented itself. I thought a million dollars for an opportunity to get in the game at this level and with the people I’d have an opportunity to meet, it just made complete sense. It didn’t even seem like a risk. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to meet people in the industry over the last several months and how welcoming they’ve been I feel I made the best decision I could have made to leap into this sport. That’s been the most gratifying part of it. It’s been great and I can only imagine what’s to come.

“I really got into this race at an unprecedented level considering it had never even existed prior to its announcement in early May. I’ve only been involved in racing as a fan. I wouldn’t even call myself a handicapper by any means. My grandfather enjoyed racing, but we grew up in Michigan, so we never really had any major Thoroughbred racing around us. But the classics were always something we watched every spring, and then I moved down to Kentucky when I got married nine years ago. I just wanted to get a little closer to the sport.”

Schafer initially thought when he did get into the game he’d go to a yearling sale or 2-year-olds in training sale and maybe buy three or four horses, mainly fillies, for $700,000 to $1 million. He would race them and then breed them. But he realized the risk that would be involved going in that direction. By snatching up a spot in the Pegasus World Cup he could get into racing at the highest level right away without even having a horse. What he finds intriguing is that at the end of the day no one knows what horse he will run and who is going to be involved with him. One thing he firmly believes is that come January 28 there is going to be a full field of top-class graded stakes winners in the field.

But where is his going to come from? That is the scintillating and unknown aspect of the race

“People have already started courting me,” he said. “The problem is how can I commit to a horse right now? We have so much more time to go. The reality is seven or eight of the slot owners are going to be looking for a horse. California Chrome, if he’s healthy, will be in the race. Nyquist, if he’s healthy, likely will be in the race. Sol Kumin has a large stable of horses and he’ll be in the race. Everyone is going to want to feel confident about their chances of winning. No one is going to throw in a secondary horse and hope to win against these kinds of horses. It’s just not realistic. Everyone who’s already gotten involved in this has a competitive nature and they’re going to want to give themselves the best chance of winning the race.

“Horse owners have reached out to me and other slot owners with horses they feel are capable of running in and winning the race.  Several have come to me and told me their horse has just won and deserves to be in the race. I’m not going to argue with them, but it’s too early to commit to any horse.”

Schafer realizes he has only one shot to get this right. There is no way he can commit to anything now and wind up with a horse who proves he’s not good enough to run or even winds up missing the race. Come November after the Breeders’ Cup the wheeling and dealing will begin.

“I’ve already had an offer to buy my slot for a profit, but it’s not worth it to me,” Schafer said. “I believe in Frank Stronach’s vision and I want to be a part of this. To offer me a dollar amount, unless it’s life changing, there’s no reason for me to get out of this race. I’m a fairly successful young man and if someone is going to come to me with an offer it’s going to have to be a pretty hefty one. I’m enjoying every bit of this and I believe one day I’m going to have my own horse running in this race.

“With the right marketing behind this and all the excitement that should come after the Breeders’ Cup, people are going to be watching this race. We have the ability to possibly put 12 grade I-winning horses in the starting gate.  You only have to name your horse on the Monday before the race, so who knows how many owners are going to be keeping it in their back pocket. They may not even mention it to the world until January 23.”

Schafer has three children, ages 2, 4, and 7, and has been married for nine years. “My wife and I have been together for 11 years, so she knew I was crazy to begin with,” Schafer said. “She supported every bit of it. She’s been great with every dream I’ve ever had, whether it be in the pizza industry or with horse racing. She’s supported me wholeheartedly, and she said to go for it.

“I didn’t know what people would think of me or how they would react to me. I can’t tell you enough how welcoming people have been towards me. Mind you, I don’t know if that’s because they want to make a play on me. I like to think I’m a sharp young businessman, but nonetheless I have a long way to go. I’m just someone who wants to learn about it all, every aspect of racing. I want to bring this sport back -- from where I don’t know. Back from the 40s? Back from the 70s with all those Triple Crown winners? We need people to embrace the sport for what it is and not just on big race days.”

Schafer, who has communicated with all the other slot owners, says he and the others who are looking for a horse have to sit tight until November after the dust from the Breeders’ Cup settles. Even then, who is going to make the first move and how high a bar are they going to set?

“It’s going to get real interesting and real fun,” he said. “That’s when all the storylines are going to start coming out. Some want to buy the slot outright, others want to be a partner, whether it’s for 50 percent or 25 percent. People just want a piece of the action. Here I am all of a sudden in the Sport of Kings, where the industry has embraced me all because of the one thing that I own, and it’s not a horse. The other slot owners who don’t own a horse have no idea what we’ve gotten ourselves into yet and what’s going to become of it, which makes it all the more exciting. I look forward to every tomorrow, because each day brings a new twist.

“All I know is that I believe this is a great play for someone like myself and the other slot owners. I’m confident that the race will withstand the initial negativity from the skeptics, which there probably will be. But I truly believe this race is here to stay. The excitement is not here yet, but it’s right around the corner and I’m getting ready for the ride.”

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