(Originally published in the May 14, 2011 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
Hollywood screenwriters could not have scripted a better story
for racing partnerships than what unfolded on Oaks and Derby days at
Stables offering a more affordable avenue to
Thoroughbred ownership by selling shares found themselves in the
winner’s circle following the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands
(gr. I), the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and the grade II Churchill Downs
Stakes on the Derby undercard.
Barry Irwin’s Team Valor
International won the Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom, John Fort’s
Peachtree Stable won the Kentucky Oaks with Plum Pretty, and Cot
Campbell’s Dogwood Stable—the oldest of the syndicates—took the
Churchill Downs Stakes with Aikenite, who won his second consecutive
grade II race this year.
Fort happens to be the sole owner of
Plum Pretty but continues to maintain a limited number of partnerships
with long-time clients. It was only through partnerships that Peachtree
Stable got started more than 30 years ago.
“I didn’t have any
money, and I needed partners to raise the capital,” Fort said. “From
having played polo for years, I knew about horses, but I wanted to own
racehorses and feel that thrill. General Motors can sell stock, but all I
could sell was the skills and the knowledge about horses that the
general public didn’t have.”
Over the years Peachtree partners
have enjoyed thrills from graded stakes winners such as Red Giant,
Flashpoint, Coin Silver, Mythical Power, and Chimichurri. As much as
Fort already knew about horses, he said he learned even more about the
sport of Thoroughbred racing from his partners.
“The people who
invested with me wanted to get close to horse racing, and it made me
realize the intense connection that still exists,” he said. “These
connections reach back to people’s roots.”
stakes victories, Fort often received letters from fans recalling family
stories from the Old West, of horses on family farms, or of early days
at the track with grandparents.
“Those 165,000 people at the Derby have an interest in horse racing,” he said.
used the bully pulpit that is the winner’s press conference following
the Derby to remind everyone of the important role partnerships play
today in getting people engaged with Thoroughbred racing. He also used
it as a platform to take a jab at the racetracks.
“I hope these
racetracks pay attention to the partnerships and treat us a little
better than they have been treating us,” Irwin said. When asked later to
elaborate, he said Churchill Downs had provided good seats for some of
the 20 partners that own a share in Animal Kingdom but also provided
some outrageously bad ones.
The size of syndicates and
partnerships can vary significantly among companies. Dogwood Stable
limits its partnerships to four per horse. Easily imagined is the
logistical nightmare created for Churchill Downs by 20 partners with
Derby Fever looking for tickets for their family and friends. Still, the
major attraction of owning a racehorse is the excitement of watching it
run and sharing the experience with friends after a win.
understand the need for revenue and to make shareholders happy,” said
Irwin. “But (Churchill Downs) needs a little humanity to make sure the
people putting on the show can share in it.”
Even though Fort has reduced his involvement in partnerships, he said
they continue to provide the best vehicle for growth in Thoroughbred
“People think we live in a celluloid world of imagery and
virtual realities,” he said. “But my experience is that people want to
reach back to something that is real and tangible. In that way,
partnerships are great for racing.”
felt during Derby week was a strong vibe emanating from the
still-influential career of the late Bobby Frankel. The Hall of Famer,
who died in 2009, trained both Leroidesanimaux and Medaglia d’Oro, the
sires of the Derby and Oaks winners, respectively. Frankel took over the
training of Leroidesanimaux when the Brazilian-bred colt arrived in the
United States in 2004. He won six graded stakes for owner Stud TNT,
including grade I victories in the Atto Mile Stakes, Citation Handicap,
and the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap. The colt also finished second in
the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. Medaglia d’Oro
won seven graded stakes for Frankel and owner Edmund Gann, including the
Travers Stakes (gr. I), Whitney Handicap (gr. I), and Donn Handicap
(gr. I). Beyond the Derby, Frankel’s namesake—an undefeated Juddmonte
Farms homebred by Galileo—is the most talented 3-year-old racing in
Europe and maybe anywhere. The legend lives on.