Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What does winning mean in a changing economy and racing industry?

Particularly since the shift in the economy, many interested fans and prospective clients ask me about the risks of owning through a thoroughbred partnership; with the myriad of factors involved, how can you really be sure of any horse? The real answer lies in how sure you are of yourself and your team. The majority of thoroughbreds born into the world have at least the potential to perform on a small scale--but is your partnership smart enough to manage a horse for what he or she is actually able to do well? It is as much of a mistake to believe that mediocre conformation can maintain a long career as it is to believe that a $500,000 price tag on a two- year-old guarantees success. People push or pamper horses everyday based on sometimes inaccurate beliefs about what method of breeding, training, and managing is best. For me, a realistic, long-term approach has always been effective in both assuaging any fears, and counterbalancing any illusions that might distract me from making good decisions. Pictured: Fine Behind - A now happy and pleasantly plump rescue from Paragallo.

Unfortunately, racing has sometimes had a bad reputation for its excesses, corrupt procedures, and inconsideration for the animals it profits from. In regard to this, I actually believe the recession scare has been good for the industry in the long run. Without a financial wake-up call, a lot of necessary restructuring to the management style of thoroughbreds might not have been contemplated for some time. Fair partnership operations, reasonable pricing, responsible breeding and training, solutions for equine retirement and overpopulation, and pragmatic education are all critical issues to be tackled in today's market. The future of the racing industry depends on the confidence we can have in its practices, and therefore, our own.

Over the years, I have formulated my own strategy for thoroughbred ownership based on what I observed to be successful, in the best interest of the horse, and fair for everyone involved. As I have spoken and written about many times and will continue to advocate for, conscientious breeding is the keystone in any champion's career. Big, strong, solid thoroughbreds last over time, are consistent, and make excellent bloodstock. Quality horses come from careful selection, and for me this is best realized in home-breds, rather than at auction or in claiming races. This is not to say that there aren't some great horses through those avenues, but to me, the degree of care is never quite the same as in a horse that has been cultivated to succeed from the womb. Home-breds are also better for the breed as a whole; the ubiquitous nature of auctions and claiming races perpetuate the idea that thoroughbreds are disposable, and that it is acceptable to simply sell to whomever wants to buy. In reality, this is the kind of attitude that weakens bloodlines through constant breeding in the haphazard hope of a profit, and sends many horses that could be adapted to another sport straight to the slaughterhouse. This is also where management comes in--a good manager is educated enough to place a horse where he or she can win, not where the horse will flounder and be considered an unworthy investment. Often the best test of character for a manager is whether or not administrative fees are taken from partners; a quality manager will benefit only when the partnership does, because he or she is confident in the decisions being made.

When comes to the concept of a "win" in ownership, the industry needs a more holistic definition. A win is not the achievement of one race, but the deliberate choices that comprise a long and healthy career. Surrounding yourself with others in your partnership and training stable who are excited about horses, realistic in their expectations, and educated in their actions is also part of accomplishing a win.

It is my personal goal in everything that I do with Unbridled to improve the world for horses and the people who love them, and if anything, uncertain times can be a great motivator to evaluate your own goals in the industry. I would encourage anyone that an investment in an ethical, proven partnership team is a surprisingly rewarding long-term venture to consider--and unlike any other speculation, it will get your heart pounding in a positive way!

Monday, August 3, 2009


When discussing pedigree, I'm often drawn into the larger subject of breeding as a whole.

My personal philosophy is to conscientiously breed the most correct and durable thoroughbreds possible, because longevity creates ethical profit. (Pictured left: Austin Runner and 2009
Ten Most Wanted colt)

However, on the business side of horse-racing, most owners are looking for a quick turnover on their investment. Rather than truly loving the horse or genuinely respecting the sport they inbreed for speed producing fast, fragile-boned babies giving no thought to their future or the reliability of any offspring they might produce. This is not to say that being business-oriented implies carelessness in the industry--on the contrary, breeding big, solid, sound horses will ultimately reward the owner far and above both financially and ethically than any one-race wonder ever could. Without strength and soundness, a horse will not likely make it past its 3 y.o. year, and miss out on the many opportunities older horses have in their division to win large stakes race purses.

On international tracks, it is much more common to see 5 and 6 y.o. thoroughbreds who have been bred and raised to acclimate to the pressures of racing through strong bone structure, size, and correct conformation. However in American racing, all too often young horses are retired from racing after one big win for the sake of recouping expenses in the short-term.

What does this all mean for the thoroughbred? The best scenarios are all too rare; many beautiful animals that worked tirelessly for their owners are simply led to slaughter when there is no profit to be made from them. A perfect example of this kind of brutality is the recent tragedy caused by owner Ernie Paragallo, who allowed the starvation and neglect of 177 thoroughbreds, many of which were valuable, prize-winning horses in recent years, on his New York farm.

To me, the real question is, how many horses have been neglected or slaughtered that don't make it to the news?

As a part of the industry, I am appalled at the trend of these kind of practices. This is why I approach breeding, owning, and managing racehorses with the greatest degree of care and humane treatment as possible, and this process begins with pedigree. A legacy of successful lineage is of course, the best place to start when getting in
volved with breeding, but taking a hard look at the physique and attitude of a potential stud is also important.

Without practically flawless conformation, I personally will not consider breeding to any thoroughbred no matter what the hype is surrounding him. He needs to be big, durable, and sound of body and mind like millionaire
Wild Desert pictured winning Canada's greatest race the Queen's Plate in 2005. I am not looking for a baby who might win a race or two early in his career, but rather, an athlete made for endurance and stamina that will provide consistency I can bank on over time.

Broodmares should also be selected with lineage and conformation in mind, and if timing allows, taking a look at her skills as mother is helpful. Some mares are more attentive and protective than others, so choosing one with intelligence, a good attitude, and excellent care for her babies is practically like buying another form of insurance on your potential foal.

If and when you decide to get involved with the exciting process of thoroughbred breeding, think about the future of the horse you aim to bring into the world. Protect that future by making smart decisions about pedigree that will carry your colt or filly firmly through his or her career and beyond. It will prove rewarding in every sense!

Things to Remember:

-- After studying up on the lineage of potential mates for your mare and the history of their careers, take visits to as many farms as necessary to really get a solid grasp on what your options are; looking at conformation and attitude should be critical in finalizing your decision!

--Take a stand on humane measures within the industry by being an example. The higher the quality and durability of the thoroughbreds you produce, the more you are advocating for positive change. Overpopulation benefits no horse and no person within racing, so choose wisely and carefully.

This formula has served us well and I am sure you will find it beneficial too so get yourself to the rail and study the great horses at Saratoga this season -- Rachel Alexandra, Mine That Bird and Summer Bird to name a few....