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.