Our friend at Gathering the Wind is talking some horse ownership. Yep, it sure is tough. We were recently wondering about when this game suddenly turned into one where we are all supposed to make money. I think I had an epiphany. I think it is not us, it is some of the syndicates that sprung up mostly this decade. I believe that to sell shares some of them have to promise potential investors a good chance to make money. And now that many of them can not, or are having trouble we must look for more money, or higher purses. In speaking to one who does run a syndicate, Woodbine's on-air handicapper Mike Hamilton (blog for the group here), he said he tried to stay realistic with new entrants. As well he prepared them for the vagaries of horse ownership and the simple fact that this is not some sort of big-three-bailout printing press. This is important to do, in my opinion. This is no surprise from a guy like Mike.
I believe that to succeed we need one thing and one thing only - luck. We have to get lucky to make some scratch. You need the one horse, perhaps a claimer you grab for $10,000 and he rolls right into conditioned races, or up the claiming ladder. Or maybe you go to a sale and grab the horse that blossoms. Or maybe you buy a yearling and he is a stakes horse. You need luck.
I was reminded of this tonight. About two years ago we were in London at the semi-annual horse sale and our trainer said he was going to look at two horses to race at a small track. He would take a small piece and we would take the rest if we wanted. There were two he looked at, both were two year old fillies. I guess we could have had either one, but he did have another owner there. That owner chose one of them, and we ended up with the other. They were both hammered down for $5000. The one we bought was not too bad. She was a $8000 conditioned claimer and won a few races. We sold her later for around $3000 and she is still racing. The one we did not buy for the same price ended up being very good. She won a $130,000 stakes race the summer after that and currently has almost $300k in the bank. Luck. It's all it is.
As an aside, that story was reminded to me because a blog reader here, who became a friend, recently purchased that same horse. He had no idea that we almost had her a couple of years ago. In her first start for his barn, she won easily at Western Fair in a $10,000 race this evening. She will be heading to the big track soon I imagine. Congrats Roy.
Somewhere we lost our way and I don't know when or where it happened - it just did. We want more money from bettors because we buy bad horses and can't make money. We fight about virtually everything because someone somewhere is not making enough money. This game was never about that before. It was about buying a horse, visiting a barn, maybe bringing a child to feed it a carrot, watching it race and hoping for a third or a fourth here and there to pay a bill. If not, well we put in some cash because we did not expect that we would pay a bill every month with a purse. Something changed. Now trainers have pressure on them to win and win now. If some guy who has been training for 30 years can't drop three seconds on a horse in a week, he is fired and the horse is given to someone who has been in the business a month who wins at a 30% rate. Vets live in the backstretch and have a medical bag that would make an executive at Pfizer blush. Jockeys and drivers are booted off and made a fool of for making a minor error that any other jock or rider would have probably made anyway. Bills are astronomical. Today's game has nothing in common with how it was 20 years ago. Nothing.
As Gathering the Wind said in his post: "Owning and racing a horse is a commitment to something bigger and more pure." I could not agree more. I wish him all the success in the world. If more people like that succeed, the better off we'll all be.
Now for the good side of things, because that's the way it is too.......
Tonight I got a note in my inbox. Harness driver Kurt Hughes is a young guy who wants to become a horseman. He got into a terrible accident and is having a rough go of it. Of course, before you know it, the people in this business swing into action. A website is up, a domain is registered and away they go. Kurthughes.com shows the best of the community. An online auction, with stud fees donated from breeding farms. Sports tickets from friends. Memorabilia from the owners of Somebeachsomewhere, including a saddle pad and head number from the Beach's 146.4 world record at Lexington.
It is truly the best part of this tightly knit business.