(Originally published in the July 28, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Tracy Gantz
When brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis were kids living in Southern California’s San Joaquin Valley, they often visited their grandparents in Pasadena.
“Our family outing was to go to Santa Anita,” said Kosta. “My brother and I would be the ones standing down on the rail with our heads sticking through the fence dreaming about these horses.”
That dream turned into reality in 2010, when they claimed their first racehorse. With the help of trainer John Sadler, Hronis Racing has blossomed into a stable of 14 that includes American Oaks (gr. IT) winner Lady of Shamrock and Koast, who finished third in a division of the July 18 Oceanside Stakes.
Lady of Shamrock gave Sadler his biggest win on the Betfair Hollywood Park card July 14, as the conditioner swept the day’s three graded stakes. In addition to the American Oaks, Sadler won the A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) with Switch for Lee and Susan Searing and the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes (gr. III) with Scherer Magic for Gary and Cecil Barber.
It’s that type of success that led the Hronis brothers to Sadler. Longtime boxholders at Santa Anita, they were watching the races a couple of years ago when Kosta had an epiphany.
“I think I’m going to buy a horse,” Kosta told Pete.
“What are you, crazy?” responded Pete. “We don’t know anything about this.”
“Well, I’m a pretty good handicapper,” was Kosta’s
Kosta decided to find a trainer by asking Tony, the usher in their box section.
“As a handicapper, I was always interested in John’s horses,” Kosta said. “Tony did some homework, and two weeks later he gave us three names. John Sadler was on the top.”
The first thing Kosta said he learned about racehorse ownership was that Pete was right—they didn’t know anything about it. Sadler and his assistant, Larry Benavidez, coached them through the process, and the early claimers have segued into allowance and stakes runners.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Kosta. “But we have John Sadler, Larry Benavidez, and great jockeys like Mike Smith (who rides Lady of Shamrock). We’re so blessed.”
Sadler bought Lady of Shamrock privately for Hronis Racing after she broke her maiden at Churchill Downs last November. Since then, the 3-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy—Blushing Issue, by Blushing John, has won four stakes. Hronis Racing has also purchased several 2-year-olds at auction, including Koast, who cost $200,000 at the 2011 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s March 2-year-old sale.
The entire family has embraced the racing stable. Kosta’s three adult children, Demetri, Hailey, and Nia, love to attend the races with their father, especially now that he’s naming horses for them. One of the four 2-year-old fillies Kosta hopes will run at Del Mar is named Scooter Bird, his nicknames for Hailey and Nia, respectively. Kosta also named a 2-year-old colt Brother Pete.
“It’s why I called the stable Hronis Racing,” Kosta said. “I want it to be a family affair. I hope it becomes a legacy, from generation to generation.”
That’s the way the family business has evolved. A farming operation, Hronis Inc. has produced table grapes since 1945. Located in and around Bakersfield, it expanded in 1988 to include a citrus division of navel oranges.
Kosta, 53, is the most involved of the family in the racing stable.
“I haven’t missed a race that one of our horses has been in,” he said. “I go to the barn regularly and see how all the horses are doing. It’s kind of like going to your kid’s soccer game.”
Pete, the younger, quieter brother at age 50, usually shows up for the big races.
“This has been something I’ve wanted to do, and he’s supported me,” Kosta said. “He often takes up the slack at work.”
Like most other owners, Kosta would love to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but he said he would actually prefer to have one in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
“In the Breeders’ Cup, you can have a boy, a girl, turf, dirt, a sprinter, a router,” he said. “You can have any kind of horse, whereas the Derby is only 3-year-olds that run on the dirt. It’s such a narrow group of horses, and people think those are the best horses in the world. But in my opinion, the Breeders’ Cup is where the greatest horses in the world are running.”
This year the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita, where Lady of Shamrock has already demonstrated her fondness for the turf surface. She would have to run against older distaffers in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
“Hopefully, she’ll continue to mature,” said Kosta. “Maybe Lady will get us there.”
If she does, rest assured the Hronis brothers won’t be watching the races by sticking their heads through the railing this time.