It’s Getting Harder to Read the Program - By Evan Hammonds

At the press conference for the winning connections of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), the Churchill Downs press crew set up four chairs: one for the winning rider, one for the trainer, and two for the owner. When the winning owners entered the room, Churchill officials had to scramble for more seats.

The winning owners on the riser May 5 included Teo Ah Khing and Allen Chastanet of China Horse Club; Kenny Troutt, owner of WinStar Farm, along with president and CEO Elliott Walden; Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing; and Head of Plains Partners’ Sol Kumin. Kumin’s seat might still have been warm from having won the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) the day before as co-owner of Monomoy Girl. Those connections included fellow Monomoy partner Jim Curry, Michael Dubb, and Stuart Grant of The Elkstone Group. Missing was Michael Caruso of Bethlehem Stables.

Thoroughbred racing has always been a complicated game…now we need a magnifying glass to read the ownership line in the program.

In the lead story on Justify’s stellar win in the Derby, Frank Angst reports nine of the 20 Derby starters were owned by partnerships, with some portions, percentages, and positions being bought and sold in the days leading up to the Run for the Roses.

It used to be the stallion farms that struck deals with owners before the classics, seeking to lock up breeding rights to the sport’s potential stars. Now, it’s about a trip to the winner’s circle…and it seems everybody wants in on the act.

For the Starlight team, Wolf and partner Don Lucarelli have developed a substantial partnership group that has been built on yearling purchases. It just so happened they didn’t have a Derby contender this year, so Wolf brokered a pair of deals to get in on Justify and third-place finisher Audible.

“These weren’t the first two that we tried, but they were the only two that we got,” said Wolf.

“I approached Elliott to buy a leg of Audible, but we couldn’t come to terms on the value of the horse (at the time). We found a situation where SF Bloodstock would sell the racing rights, and we agreed on a price. They made a very fair deal for them and us both.

“It just so happened we were in the right place at the right time.”

Shortly before Derby week West Point Thoroughbreds purchased 30% of My Boy Jack (from Kumin), the second choice in the Derby who finished fifth. West Point was also in on Coach Rocks in the Oaks.

Timing and quick action are key in this new era of partnering up.

“It’s competitive, no doubt,” Terry Finley said. “You have to strike quickly. You have to remember you’re not getting in on every deal; and if you don’t get this one, turn the page and look for the next one. You have to hope you’ll have some success with the ones you do get.”

Finley knows. He got in on last year’s Derby winner, Always Dreaming, with MeB Racing Stable, Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, St. Elias (Vincent Viola), and Siena Farm.

Kumin is the guy who has revolutionized the game, either through 100% purchases or partnering with multiple owners to be in play on the biggest weekends. He’s now finding plenty of company.

“I think it’s going to get more competitive. It’s starting to go that way as people realize this is a different strategy, but a good strategy,” he said. “You end up running into the same major players trying to do private purchases.

“When we started, we only wanted to buy the whole horse. We then realized if we were willing to keep horses with trainers we weren’t using, we could build new relationships. Some people only buy if they can get control, more than 50%, and always have the horse run in their silks. If you can be flexible on owning, say, a third, and not controlling everything, you put yourself in an advantageous position.

“There are more people doing it. If you take the top 50 people in the U.S. horse market probably only 10% are buying horses privately. That will likely double a few years from now. It’s still a small part of the market, and I hope it stays that way.”

Don’t count on it, Sol.

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