Partnership - By Dan Liebman

The most important aspect of any business is the relationships that are built. We are not immune to that in the publishing business, our relationships being with our customers, whether they be subscribers, advertisers, Web site visitors, etc.

The Thoroughbred owner has many important relationships, but none more so than the one that exists with the man or woman entrusted to train his or her horses. We were reminded of this with the Nov. 16 death of Bobby Frankel, who trained for numerous owners, but was most closely associated in recent years with the Juddmonte Farms operation of owner Khalid Abdullah. The two clearly had a special relationship.

That type of special relationship was evident on racing’s biggest stage just nine days prior to Frankel’s passing when Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). The bond between owners Ann and Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs seems to be yet another example of how close people can become through racing.

There was another example during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships when Alain and Gerard Wertheimer won the Mile (gr. IT) for the second straight year with Goldikova, trained by Freddy Head. The Wertheimer and Head families have been intertwined for several generations.

Of course, the flip side was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) won by She Be Wild. Owners Mike and Nancy Mazzoni just met trainer Wayne Catalano this spring, and She Be Wild is one of two fillies he agreed to take for them.

Whether an owner has had horses with a trainer for decades or months, the relationship is vitally important. It has always seemed ironic that a person who does extensive due diligence in his primary business before making any decision may hastily, and without much of any background work, hire a trainer—or boarding farm or sale consignor, for that matter—to oversee his investment in the Thoroughbred industry.

With modern-day statistics, it is easy to find information about trainers. Data are readily available, for example, on which trainers do better with 2-year-olds, or with turf starters, or have a higher percentage of horses that race until age 4 or 5.

Of course, the hiring of a trainer comes down to many factors, and what is most important surely varies from owner to owner. For instance, an owner may be influenced by such simple things as the region of the country he wishes to race in or the value of his racing stock.

This is far from a one-sided equation, however. Trainers should also do their homework, listening to the business plan and understanding the goals of the owner.

While there are numerous examples over the years of longtime affiliations between owners and trainers, there also are just as many notable break-ups.

Asked this summer why he seemed to have fewer horses, a prominent trainer said succinctly, “the owners that weren’t paying their bills were told to come and get their horses.”

Owners often take heat for changing trainers, but the man paying the bills should certainly be allowed to move his horses for any reason, or for that matter without explanation. So, too, the trainer should at any time be able to tell an owner to send a van to pick up his horses.

The owner/trainer relationship is an interesting one because it is about more than business; it is about equine athletes, each of whom requires individualized care.

A well-known trainer once said it was best to treat owners like mushrooms, meaning feed them manure and keep them in the dark. Another was often quoted as saying the worst owner was one that could read a condition book.

But the key to any business relationship should be open communication—especially between a Thoroughbred owner and trainer.

10 Comments

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the key to the trainer/owner business relationship, and the only stat that matters is what % of the particular trainer's stable makes it through the year without injury. our good sport has yet to keep that stat.  Hence, the owner-trainer "problem".

24 Nov 2009 2:43 PM
Christian

A good relationship between owner and trainer has to be nurtured. Trust has to be earned and continually earned on each side. If an owner wants to be involved he has to find a trainer that welcomes the involvement. Many do not. While there are lots of statistics available finding local or national trainers is not about statistics alone. Racing jurisdictions do not publish trainers names and contact information the way they do jockeys and jockeys agents information. This is a particular obstacle for new owners. They can't even find all the possible choices they have let alone qualify them as a trainer they might get along with. If they want to check a trainer's drug positives or suspensions (Jockey Club Chairman Phipps said he thought an owner was equally guilty in a positive if they choose a trainer with a history of positives)where is such information published and easily available?  It can't be available for only those in the know.  

24 Nov 2009 3:52 PM
Touchstone farms

Dan,

As usual you write articles of substance that need addressing, congratulations once again.

Having said that it needs to be taken one step further: Owners need to be able to reference a computer generated list for trainers which will give them the phone number, jurisdiction where they are based, Day rate, and their race history positives and what class, whether they train claimers/stakes/condition horses specialize in 2 yr olds. etc.

Trainers should be able to access the same database for information on problem owners, ones that don't pay their bills, have had their licence suspended etc. etc. In short a repository for Trainers & Owners! If the jockey club wishes to rule and regulate everyone it should be encumbant upon them to set up this registry and make it available ONLINE!

When an owner calls a race office in any jurisdiction inquiring as to a trainers phone number 9 times out of 10 they decline to give it?

Should an owner be held responsible for a trainers positives? Sure Mr. Phipps as long as the OJC has made all the trainers background information "Readily Available" prior to the trainer being chosen!

25 Nov 2009 11:38 AM
nmclean

I think a trainer has to be honest with their owner(s).  When you start the BS the relationship doesn't have a good foundation to weather the disappointments that can occur to a racing stable. Being upfront is always the best.

25 Nov 2009 11:41 AM
da3hoss

Funny you use She Be Wild as an example...they wanted to dump her,  she had sore shins so her trainer put her in a claimer as a "workhorse" (his words not mine) and she was better than all of them...

25 Nov 2009 11:57 AM
Joe

For Toouvhstone farms. Not exactly what your are looking for but I picked up a copy of the 2009-2010 Directory of Thoroughbred Trainers compiled by Monticule at the Keenland Sale. It has addresses and contacts numbers for most trainers as well as the areas they train in by region. You can contact Monticule at info@monticule.com

25 Nov 2009 1:07 PM
Golden Gate

As a new owner in the business (less than 4 yrs) I have already had some interesting experiences with trainers and it has cost me a bundle. However I have learned what to ask and look for.

It is not only the trainer a owner has to watch out for but also who they use to care for your horse...the veterinarian,the exercise riders, the groom, etc.

It is good to know the reputation of everyone who has direct contact with your animal.

26 Nov 2009 8:57 PM
Scott

Advice to owners.  If you have one or two horses, stay away from the big trainers.  If your horse is not on the top, the horse will get lost in the shuffle.  With a big trainer, they only have so many stalls, and there are always more to come in.  So the trainer does not mind losing the cheaper horse.  A small trainer, needs to make every horse in the stable count.  Remember, bottom line, this is a numbers game.  No matter how you look at it.  We are always looking at the numbers.  Just like any other sport.  There is one very good execption to that rule.  In the Mid Atlantic region, Dale Capuano looks at every horse, every day no matter what the class.  (for anyone who knows this phrase-"Jogging!"  

27 Nov 2009 10:13 PM
Cal Owner

The Thorobred Owners of California has had on their website a link to many of the statistics mentioned.  It is worth taking a look at.

28 Nov 2009 10:53 AM
ZipsSecret

I've commented on the subject of partnerships before and I will do so again.  As an past owner through a partnership, which if I mention the name of the partnership I know this will not be included as several in the industry turn a blind eye and ear to what is going on with partnerships.  I also own nearly a dozen hunter/jumpers and manage them on my own through the use of good competent trainers who really care about the animals and understand my plans/goals.  This was my experience with the partnership and the relationship/communication with the trainers that the minority partners had.  Basically NONE, you have no input into their care or where they are placed.  We had a situation on one horse where he needed to have a chip removed, a pretty common procedure which would require surgery and a layup.  However, the majority partner and trainer decided that it was in the best interest of the partnership (not the horse) that the horse just be dropped in for a low level claiming tag so the medical issue became the new owners problem.  I protested, I still believe to this day that what was done was not in the best interest of that particular horse and because of this I would never be part of another partnership.  I think if you truly care about the horses and their interests you can't be part of a partnership.  The author is correct, the owner and trainer need to have common goals and interests for all to enjoy the relationship, which is what it becomes.

30 Nov 2009 12:39 PM

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