Spreading the joy of ownership

 NEW Blood - examples of how farms, tracks and trainers are attracting new owners to the racing world     The lifeblood of Thoroughbred racing has always been its owners, and in recent years there have been many creative ways to attract newcomers to the sport, as well as retain those already in it.  Rather than sitting back and waiting for new clients to seek their services, trainers have taken a proactive role in bolstering their business, often in partnership with farms and racetracks, while industry organizations are increasingly focused on providing a plethora of information as well as assistance to prospective owners.  “From what I see, the number of owners in Thoroughbred racing is staying the same or decreasing,” said Duncan Taylor, president of Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. “And people that you want to stay in the business often don’t stay very long. They get frustrated with the status quo and there’s an ‘old guard’ in Kentucky that don’t want to change.”  Taylor, who serves on Keeneland’s Board of Directors and the Keeneland Executive Board, is also a board member of Horse Country, Inc., an organization of horse farms, equine medical clinics and equine attractions, the aim of which is to develop fans and future owners of the sports through tourism. For a small fee, people can sign up for tours of Lexington-area farms on the web site visithorsecountry.com.  “Kentucky is in a prime spot,” said Taylor. “And where Lexington is situated is about a six-to-eight hour drive of three-quarters of the United States population. We have the Bourbon Trail here, and tours of distilleries are very popular. About 2-½ years ago myself, Headley Bell, Price Bell, Brutus Clay and others thought we should have a similar venture for the Thoroughbred industry. We started Horse Country, and we feel Kentucky can be a destination for travelers. Our first year we had about 1,800 people sign up for tours here at Taylor Made, while this year we’re looking at about 9,000, so it’s growing. We could have even bigger growth if marketed correctly.  “Of those 9,000 people, maybe 40 are interested in doing something, so we plant the seeds in people’s minds about ownership,” said Taylor.  Taylor Made has branched out into other areas to attract new owners, including a pinhooking venture with Bloodstock Investments, run by Katie Taylor-Marshall, and Medallion Racing, a racing partnership with the aim of offering an ideal experience for potential owners. Medallion, headed by racing manager Phillip Shelton, buys minority interest in graded stakes-caliber fillies, immediately bringing investors to the graded stakes level.  Taylor said there have been discussions about doing something, perhaps a syndicate, with progeny of Classic winner California Chrome, who stands at Taylor Made, but there isn’t anything on the table right now. The farm partnered with journalist Geoffrey Gray when he started the “People’s Horse” venture, which had 300 people sign up for $100 each and became “owners” of the Munnings mare Colorful Bride, in foal to the stallion.  The birth of the Chrome foal was broadcast live on a “horsecam” that streamed around-the-clock from Colorful Bride’s stall, with an estimated 1,000 people watching.  Taylor also feels that if the sport wants to get new fans and owners, it needs to treat horseplayers better.  “Years ago, there wasn’t as much competition for the betting dollar,” he said. “Now we’re competing against casinos, which really cater to customer service. Racing doesn’t focus on people who want to bet, and we haven’t been innovative on changing how you bet. Most people that bet the lottery want to put a little money down and have a life-changing experience. We ought to think like that. If we can get on the same web site or platform as sports betting, if someone sees they can bet baseball, football and horse racing, it could help us tremendously. We can’t keep doing business as usual.”     * * * *     Canadian trainer Francine Villeneuve and longtime breeder Vera Simpson have each launched initiatives to attract new owners at their base at Woodbine Racetrack. Woodbine, on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada, offers fans and owners a world-class experience and offered its support to both Villeneuve and Simpson with their ventures.     Both Villeneuve and Simpson have found that road a bit bumpy, for different reasons.  From the mid-1980s to 2011, Villeneuve rode in the biggest races in the world at some of the most famous tracks, becoming the first Canadian woman jockey to win 1,000 races. After she retired, she became a trainer and was part of a new venture in 2016 to get people interested in racing.     “I had just started training, and I’d seen different syndicates popping up,” said Villeneuve. “I thought it was important that the industry try to do something with people who didn’t have a lot of money get involved in low-cost, low-risk ventures. So a syndicate was created with the idea of attracting those people, and to help educate them about the sport.”     The first horse for the syndicate unfortunately failed to win in five starts, but the second, Callielikedherbrew, broke her maiden at Woodbine in December and has since won three more times, including back-to-back victories at Fort Erie Race Track this summer, earning $40,975. Once the filly’s career ends, so will the syndicate.     Despite a few ups and downs Villeneuve said it was definitely a positive experience.  “It was also a great learning experience for me, and I made many friends,” she said. “Several people have now joined with me in other horses, but in much smaller group numbers of four and five.”     Simpson, a former provincial director of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, has owned and operated Curraghmore Farm with her husband Michael Dube, for nearly 35 years.  Simpson’s goal in creating Thoroughbred Race Club was to attract new owners for Woodbine while also developing buyers of Ontario-bred horses.  “I had the passion and I gleaned the idea from the successful race club at Royal Ascot,” she said. “I wanted to make it accessible and fun, to introduce people to trainers and make it a great experience. But I wanted to push the idea to people outside of racing, to golf and social clubs, and especially the equestrian world. The lack of owners is a huge problem in Canada, and the powers that be in racing believe new horse owners come through bettors, but I believe they come from horse lovers.”  For a buy-in price of $20,000, the Thoroughbred Race Club offers an opportunity to be part of a group affiliated with up to 10 racehorses, risk-free, while being handled by Canadian Hall of Fame trainer Reade Baker and his wife, Janis Maine.  Woodbine offers Thoroughbred Race Club members first-class treatment, including Royal Enclosure tickets for the Queen’s Plate, functions in the Woodbine Suite, select wines, seated dinners, and backstretch tours. But to date, Simpson hasn’t got any business yet but continues to personally subsidise the horses the club has in training.  “I’m not discouraged, I’m disappointed,” she said, stating that she didn’t think the buy-in price was a barrier to investors. “I haven’t gotten to the people I need to.”     Syndicates and partnerships are not new to the industry in Canada however the initiative to find new owners to participate in such groups and partnerships or as individual owners has historically been left up to individual trainers. That is about to change.     Recently the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) of Ontario has contracted former Jockey Club of Canada Executive Director, Stacie Roberts, to head a committee tasked with creating and managing an owner program that will introduce new participants to the thoroughbred racing industry in Ontario.     Ontario is Canada’s most populated province and is home to both Woodbine and Fort Erie race tracks. The sole focus of the HBPA’s new committee will be to attract new racehorse owners to both racetracks.     “Racing associations and organizations in Canada each have their own initiatives within their organizations to promote new ownership however that focus sometimes gets lost in the everyday running of the organization,” commented Roberts. “There are plenty of terrific ideas that have been brought to the table already and with the dedicated focus of the group we are confident that our concentrated effort will be the key to bringing new owners into the industry in Ontario.”       * * * *     Many racetracks have started their own racing clubs for new owners, with the Churchill Downs Racing Club having the highest profile to date.  “We picked up the concept at the Arizona Symposium of Racing and launched the Club in 2016,” said Gary Palmisano, VIP Player Services Manager for Churchill Downs, who represents the Club’s interests and serves as a liaison for club members. “We asked D. Wayne Lukas early on to be our first trainer, and initially he was concerned how it would work, but now sees how good it is for racing. We sold out 200 shares at $500 each in 48 hours, in large part because of Wayne agreeing to be part of the experience. Also, there are no additional expenses beyond the $500.”  Palmisano said the Club’s first horse, a private purchase by Lukas named Warrior’s Club, won the Grade 3 Commonwealth Stakes and has earned more than $700,000.  “Warrior’s Club set everything off, it really kickstarted the Club,” he said. “Since then, we’ve used other trainers - Dallas Stewart, Tom Amoss, Dale Romans, Al Stall - and from the initial 200 we’ve grown to more than 1,200 partners. More than 50 from the initial 400 have gone on to join with others to form their own syndicates or own horses individually.”  Palmisano said that Churchill Downs noticed a decline in the number of owners from Louisville, so the idea was to promote ownership to people from that city.  “What we’ve found, however, is that people from more than 30 states have joined the Club,” he said.  Palmisano said each trainer decides how to acquire the horse, but because the Club is designed for instant action, it specifically wants a 2-year-old in training. Members get benefits such as regular email updates on the horse, visits to the track in the early mornings to watch the horse train, trips to the paddock, a season-long owner parking pass, and invitations to exclusive Churchill Downs Racing Club events at the track.  Indiana Grand’s ownership concept, Grand Gesture Stable, celebrated its first victory September 23 when Bold Concept broke her maiden for her 44 owners.  Now in its second season, Grand Gesture allows fans to own a share of a racehorse at Indiana Grand during the 2018 racing meet for a one-time fee of $300. At the end of the year, Bold Concept will be sold and, after all expenses are paid, including the purchase price of the horse, any funds left over will be divided evenly among all owners. Bold Concept is trained by Anthony Granitz.     * * * *     The Jockey Club and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association have taken an active role in attracting prospective owners to the sport through its Thoroughbred OwnerView website, a resource that contains a wealth of information for both new and current owners.  The website was created as one of nine recommendations to grow ownership as a result of a major industry study released by The Jockey Club in 2011. The study, commissioned by The Jockey Club and conducted in association with the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, analyzed the current state and the future of Thoroughbred racing and breeding in North America after interviewing nearly 1,000 people about their experiences as Thoroughbred owners.  “One of the things the McKinsey study found was that it’s difficult to get people involved in ownership because of the complexity of the sport,” said Gary Falter, who leads OwnerView for The Jockey Club as well as the annual Thoroughbred Owner Conference, both created to help solve the problem.  On its homepage, OwnerView lists 24 different categories that a prospective owner can click on and find information on trainers, syndicates, advisors, incentives, stallion farms, ownership, licensing, auctions, and aftercare, to name just a few.  Clicking on “Owner Conference” shows details about the annual three-day conference, scheduled this year at Churchill Downs to coincide with the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Among the schedule of events is a panel discussion with industry experts that addresses the essentials of ownership - accounting, legal, insurance, advisors, acquisitions and business plans.  “What we’re seeing are owners increasingly coming into the sport through partnerships and syndicates,” said Falter. “Fractional ownership can be the way to go for newcomers.”  The Owner Conference has welcomed many of the sport’s top trainers as panelists, among them Richard Mandella, Jerry Hollendorfer, Ken McPeek, Bill Mott and Graham Motion, and Falter said some have acquired new clients thanks to the conference.    * * * *     The Commonwealth of Virginia may not have a current racing program, but its breeders association has developed a new program in order to bolster breeding and ownership.  The Virginia Certified program was unveiled last year for horses foaled outside of Virginia, but which maintain residency in Virginia for at least a six-month period prior to December 31 of their two-year-old year at a certified farm or training center.  Owners of Virginia Certified horses are then eligible for 25 percent owners bonuses for non-Virginia-restricted wins at racetracks in the mid-Atlantic region.  “Part of the reason we created the Virginia Certified program was because it was hard for us to compete with states that have alternative gaming,” said Debbie Easter, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, who noted that the Delaware Certified program was used as a model. “The response has been great. We went from 400 horses the first year (2017) to 700 this year. It’s been spectacular for the farms, their stalls are full and they’re hiring people. It’s been an agricultural and economic boon for us and certainly has gotten new owners involved.”  Easter said that, without a full racing schedule, Virginia lost the ability to attract horses.  “We’re still breeding quality horses, but the Virginia Certified program might be the best thing that’s ever been done,” she said, adding that Colonial Downs is expected to reopen next year.

By Linda Dougherty

NEW Blood - examples of how farms, tracks and trainers are attracting new owners to the racing world

The lifeblood of Thoroughbred racing has always been its owners, and in recent years there have been many creative ways to attract newcomers to the sport, as well as retain those already in it.

Rather than sitting back and waiting for new clients to seek their services, trainers have taken a proactive role in bolstering their business, often in partnership with farms and racetracks, while industry organizations are increasingly focused on providing a plethora of information as well as assistance to prospective owners.

“From what I see, the number of owners in Thoroughbred racing is staying the same or decreasing,” said Duncan Taylor, president of Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. “And people that you want to stay in the business often don’t stay very long. They get frustrated with the status quo and there’s an ‘old guard’ in Kentucky that don’t want to change.”  

Taylor, who serves on Keeneland’s Board of Directors and the Keeneland Executive Board, is also a board member of Horse Country, Inc., an organization of horse farms, equine medical clinics and equine attractions, the aim of which is to develop fans and future owners of the sports through tourism. For a small fee, people can sign up for tours of Lexington-area farms on the web site visithorsecountry.com.

“Kentucky is in a prime spot,” said Taylor. “And where Lexington is situated is about a six-to-eight hour drive of three-quarters of the United States population. We have the Bourbon Trail here, and tours of distilleries are very popular. About 2-½ years ago myself, Headley Bell, Price Bell, Brutus Clay and others thought we should have a similar venture for the Thoroughbred industry. We started Horse Country, and we feel Kentucky can be a destination for travelers. Our first year we had about 1,800 people sign up for tours here at Taylor Made, while this year we’re looking at about 9,000, so it’s growing. We could have even bigger growth if marketed correctly.

“Of those 9,000 people, maybe 40 are interested in doing something, so we plant the seeds in people’s minds about ownership,” said Taylor.

Taylor Made has branched out into other areas to attract new owners, including a pinhooking venture with Bloodstock Investments, run by Katie Taylor-Marshall, and Medallion Racing, a racing partnership with the aim of offering an ideal experience for potential owners. Medallion, headed by racing manager Phillip Shelton, buys minority interest in graded stakes-caliber fillies, immediately bringing investors to the graded stakes level.

Duncan Taylor, president Taylor Made Farm, with California Chrome

Taylor said there have been discussions about doing something, perhaps a syndicate, with progeny of Classic winner California Chrome, who stands at Taylor Made, but there isn’t anything on the table right now. The farm partnered with journalist Geoffrey Gray when he started the “People’s Horse” venture, which had 300 people sign up for $100 each and became “owners” of the Munnings mare Colorful Bride, in foal to the stallion.

The birth of the Chrome foal was broadcast live on a “horsecam” that streamed around-the-clock from Colorful Bride’s stall, with an estimated 1,000 people watching.

Taylor also feels that if the sport wants to get new fans and owners, it needs to treat horseplayers better.

“Years ago, there wasn’t as much competition for the betting dollar,” he said. “Now we’re competing against casinos, which really cater to customer service. Racing doesn’t focus on people who want to bet, and we haven’t been innovative on changing how you bet. Most people that bet the lottery want to put a little money down and have a life-changing experience. We ought to think like that. If we can get on the same web site or platform as sports betting, if someone sees they can bet baseball, football and horse racing, it could help us tremendously. We can’t keep doing business as usual.”

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